The balance of seven years of Nationality Law for Jews of Sephardic origin

The balance of seven years of Nationality Law for Jews of Sephardic origin

1 March 2022 marks the seventh anniversary of the entry into force of the nationality act that allows Jews of Sephardic origin to acquire Portuguese nationality. The Portuguese state has granted Portuguese citizenship to 56,685 descendants of Sephardic Jews. Portugal still has 80,102 pending applications, so a total of 137,087 applications for acquiring Portuguese nationality.

Suzanne Cohen, a member of B’nai B’rith International Portugal, explains to Portuguese Jewish News, “The law is aimed at over 1 million people, just counting the traditional families of the Sephardic communities of North Africa and the former Ottoman Empire. About 10% have so far applied for citizenship, about 5% have obtained citizenship, and just over 7000 of them already live in Portugal.”

The certifying Jewish communities and the Registry adhered to the law in all procedures. In seven years, there was not a single suspicious incident of irregularities being committed, unique in the history of the Portuguese Nationality Act published in 1981, constantly riddled with scandal.  

What are the positive effects of the law, after these seven years?

The link between Portugal and the Portuguese Sephardic diaspora present in all continents has been re-established. The greatest beneficiary was the Portuguese economy. Billions of euros have been invested by Sephardic Jews. The potential for growth is huge. The three richest Portuguese citizens are Jews in the light of Halacha, of Sephardic origin, who acquired Portuguese nationality in the last years.

The national Jewish community grew by more than 1000% while many families are still preparing to travel to Portugal. New synagogues, new achdut centres, a new Chabad Centre, new museums, new kosher restaurants and shops, a new Jewish cemetery, a national Jewish school, online Jewish newspapers, international award-winning historical films, awareness courses on Jewish history, culture and religion, visits from schools from all over the country and major growth of Jewish tourism in Portugal.

The Portuguese Jewish community, which was insignificant in 2015, now takes part in global inter-religious projects and in the world Jewish philanthropic network that acts in dozens of countries at the same time.

What are the negative effects of the law after these seven years?

There was constant defamation by agents who destroyed every ounce of romanticism in this law, and never even mentioned at least one positive effect: “the applicants only want passports of convenience”, “there are tens of millions of candidates”, “Sephardic applicants have children and spouses”, "to obtain citizenship the applicants only need to pay thousands of euros to genealogists, lawyers and Portuguese Jewish communities" and others.

Those agents alleged millions in profits earned by the certifying communities and silenced the billions of euros brought by the Sephardim to the Portuguese economy, as well as the promotion of the Jewish religion, Jewish culture and social philanthropy. In the meantime, the emoluments - 250 euros – charged by the certifying communities in Portugal are the same as the emoluments charged by the Portuguese Registry Office, whom no one accuses of making millions in profits.

Suzanne Cohen says, “In the United States, Belgium, France and England there are Haredim quarters with their own schools, health systems, security and markets, where life is dedicated to observing the Torah. In Portugal, all it took was for a few thousand Jews to become part of society, with filled synagogues and Jewish museums, for antisemitism to rise again with the same arguments, myths and techniques of five centuries ago: the material image of the Jews, the old myths (trickery, dealings and Jewish Freemasonry) and conspiracy theories based on anonymous charges. This has all been exposed in the print media and on social media".

She adds, “In my opinion, the law will end soon. That is why it was so completely slandered and discredited for two years. Every means possible was used. It was a free for all. For anti-Semites, the law was a ‘law of convenience,’ it was not supposed to give rise to Jewish life and Jewish culture”.

The European Commission announced in early October 2021 that Jewish life will be fostered in a Europe that was home to 9.5 million Jews before the Second World War and whose remaining 1.5 million are abandoning the Old Continent.