Madrid-Marcos Cabrera Coronel’s Jewish ancestry can be traced back to the 15th century, when Spain expelled tens of thousands of Hispanic Jews.
Therefore, after Spain announced in 2015 that it wanted to make up for the deportation of Jews in 1492 by providing Spanish citizenship to those who could prove its connection with Spain, Cabrera hoped to take advantage of this opportunity.
Like thousands of others in developing countries, this Venezuelan businessman tried to escape the political and economic strife in the country and build a new life for his family in the European Union.
He spent $63,500 trying to obtain Spanish passports for nine Venezuelan family members, and after obtaining certificates from three Jewish organizations to prove his connection with Spain.
However, 4 out of 9 applications were rejected in March.
“I was destroyed. We ran out of family savings. We wanted to do this to give my family a better chance of life than Venezuela,” the 66-year-old businessman from Valencia, Venezuela told VOA.
He was one of more than 3,000 Jewish applicants rejected by the Spanish government for naturalization this year, prompting lawyers and activists to blame the Jewish applicants, who said they had no reason to be rejected.
This incident prompted Teresa Legg Fernandez, a Democrat from New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives, to raise the matter to the White House.
In Spain, politicians from the conservative People’s Party to Jon Iñarritu of the Basque Nationalist Bildu Party demanded that the Spanish government respond to the refusal of so many Jews.
The Spanish government denied the claims of anti-Semitism, and the Spanish Jewish Communities Federation and other lawyers involved in assisting applicants also denied this claim.
Ancient history and modern history
In 1492, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile ended Muslim rule in Spain and ordered the expulsion of Jews and Muslims.
Thousands of people have converted to Christianity, and many more have left the Iberian Peninsula to live around the world.
According to the 2015 law, applicants must show some proof of their Hispanic ancestry.
For Jews, this can be proved by genealogical reports that record their family history.
For the so-called converts—those whose families are forced to convert to Catholicism—this can be demonstrated by the practice passed on from generation to generation.
The application must be certified by the Jewish community in the country of birth or residence and/or the Spanish Jewish Community Federation. They must also prove their connection with Spain. This will be certified by a notary public.
The Spanish Ministry of Justice conducted a final inspection.
According to the Spanish Ministry of Justice, the program ran between 2015 and 2019, during which time Spain received 63,873 applications. Of these, 36,168 were approved and 3,020 were rejected. Thousands more are under consideration.
A source close to the investigation cited an unpublished police report from the Spanish Embassy in Latin American countries in 2018, which warned criminal organizations of possible fraudulent attempts to obtain citizenship for descendants of Hispanic Jews.
According to an unnamed person familiar with the matter, two businessmen in Colombia reportedly sold services to thousands of applicants, promising to help them obtain Spanish passports. Only notaries in Spain are legally allowed to do so.
After the police investigation, Spain changed the rules, requiring applicants to obtain a certificate of Spanish ancestry from a local Jewish group.
Before the rule changes, Jewish organizations outside of the applicant’s country/region offered to issue Hispanic certificates because they were very expensive in some Latin American countries.
After the rule change, 3,019 applications were rejected this year and 1 in 2020.
Luis Portero, a lawyer who helped draft the original law in 2015, said that the Jewish applicant was rejected because the Spanish government failed to provide the applicant with a proper explanation of the rule changes.
“Hundreds of Jewish applicants were rejected, which proves anti-Semitism,” he told VOA.
Dr. Sara Koplik of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, USA, who helped apply, said that she believes that the Spanish government has closed the door to Jews who comply with the regulations.
The 50-year-old scholar is an expert on Spanish Jews. Her application cost $8,700 but was rejected this year.
“This is a very limited plan, with strict rules, and it was abandoned a few years later after everyone spent millions of dollars. [on applications]. That’s why this looks like prejudice. It doesn’t make any sense. “She told VOA.
However, other lawyers involved in the process and the Spanish Jewish Community Federation refuted these claims, saying that those who were rejected did not follow the rules.
“Some people don’t comply with the requirement to obtain citizenship, perhaps because they do not live in the Jewish community. This is not a case of anti-Semitism at all.” Spanish lawyer Alberto de Lara Bendahan told VOA.
A source from the Spanish Ministry of Justice told VOA: “The applications were rejected because they did not meet the legal requirements to some extent. We don’t know or ask about their religious beliefs.”