After 500 years, Spain wants its Jews to return


© 2014, Bloomberg News

There’s a whiff of desperation in Spain’s latest plan to naturalize descendants of the Jews the country’s rulers expelled back in 1492.

The initiative — advertised as righting a historic wrong — began seven years ago, and since then Spain has granted citizenship to 746 Sephardic Jews, mostly from Venezuela and Turkey. A proposed bill is meant to ease the citizenship process for 3.5 million descendants, many of them living in Latin America and Israel.

The question is why now? Spain is barely clawing its way back from the deepest economic crisis in almost half a century. Unemployment hovers around 26 percent — youth joblessness is an eye-watering 50 percent — and the state has cut health, education and other entitlements. Plus, frustrated, unemployed Spaniards aren’t too welcoming of foreigners.

In reality, Spain’s immigration bill is the latest attempt to attract talent, ideas and money to an economy in need of all three. It’s almost poetic justice. After all, what is worse: kicking out Jewish people because of their faith, or calling them back more than 500 years later because of the notion — prevalent in Spain — that Jews are educated, industrious and excel at business? Spanish politicians would do well to explain why such a spirit of historic justice doesn’t extend to the descendants of the almost 300,000 Muslims Spain cast out in 1609.

In fairness, the bill is well-intentioned. For starters, it means Spain recognizes the need to shake up things and bring in new blood. The bill would also allow Jewish beneficiaries to keep other citizenships instead of asking them to renounce them. This suggests Spanish politicians are finally grasping that openness to national diversity makes countries such as the United States powerful magnets for international talent. Moreover, immigrants tend to have a solid work ethic; Spain’s Chinese community, for example, has thrived amid the country’s economic woes.

The immigration bill also helps account for why many Brazilians seem eager these days to explore their Jewish ancestry and obtain a Spanish passport even though Brazil’s economic troubles are arguably more manageable than Spain’s. It is no secret that immigration has flowed the other way in recent years, with a generation of young Spaniards heading to the U.S. and Latin America looking for a better life.

If Spain wants immigrants to help overcome its economic difficulties it could do much more. True, Spain already began cutting taxes to stimulate growth. But it should tailor and promote more attractive tax advantages for those who create companies and generate new jobs. Spain might also learn something from Chile — it’s former colony — where the government has offered money and tax breaks to technology startups willing to set up shop in Santiago.

Getting a country back on its feet takes more than a passport, a handshake and talk of redemption. If Spain is really so intent on making amends for the wrongs it committed so long ago, there’s a whole region called Latin America that wants its gold back.

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Preventing a massacre in N. Korea’s gulags

    Since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued its report on North Korea in February, U.N. bodies, human-rights organizations, governments and think tanks have been working to respond to the crimes against humanity it documented, including the systematic abuse of prisoners and food policies that lead to starvation. But the report’s most chilling section rarely gets discussed: standing orders at North Korea’s political prison camps (the kwanliso) to kill all prisoners in the event of armed conflict or revolution.

  • We stand with the kidnapped girls of Nigeria

    As president and founder of the South Florida Girl Up, a club of teenage activists in Florida for the Girl Up Campaign of the United Nations Foundation, I want to add my voice to that of other activists with whom I’ve collaborated to create and support the first clubs in Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia.

  • Why the House should sue Obama

    The Constitution states that it’s Congress’ job to make the laws and the president’s to faithfully execute them. It does not permit a president to suspend a law or grant special dispensations from its requirements. But President Obama has done just these things on numerous occasions, and only the federal courts can preserve the constitutionally mandated separation of powers by definitively rebuffing his illegal actions.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category