After midnight at the second birthday party of the trendy Jerusalem bar, Mitteh, a bunch of drunken 20-somethings are kidding around. The subject of their mirth is the new Spanish law guaranteeing citizenship to any descendant of Jews who were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.
Across the street, at a bar frequented by an older clientele, a Spanish consular official puts his head in his hands and decries the “oncoming onslaught” of citizenship requests he anticipates.
“Ok, it’s the right thing,” he says, “but it is going to be out of control.”
For now, the bill, which is supported by the government and is expected to pass through parliament, has relatively lax standards for proving Spanish ancestry, including a note from a rabbi, a Sephardic surname, or knowledge of Spanish. Portugal followed suit with a law introduced two days later.
Since the announcement, online forums have been flooded with enthusiastic comments while pundits pour scorn on Israelis’ apparent desire to acquire the passport of the economically troubled nation.
Dr Eliezer Papo, deputy director of the Moshe David Gaon Centre for Ladino Culture at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, has also been swamped with inquiries.
“Everyone approached me and asked how to go about realising this thing [obtaining Spanish citizenship]. The waves of interest that the law sparked in Israel are not necessarily tied to Ladino culture, but have more to do with the dissatisfaction of young people in this country who are searching for a way to reach a place which from here seems better,” he says, acknowledging that Spain is “not a land of milk and honey but a country in economic distress”.
Still, he plans to request the passport as soon as he can. “What will I do with the passport? Nothing! I would get one just to be able to wave it in front of Queen Isabella’s grave and tell her, ‘Despite the injustice you caused, the country you established was kind enough to understand and correct it’.”
Economist Ben Danon, 40, says he too would “surely submit candidacy for the simple reason that it gives me a European passport. Lots of people living here are disgruntled with the high level of corruption, the economic system and the disparities in wages and don’t see how it’s going to change. Europe is in a crisis, but looking 10 years ahead, it’s clear that the situation there will change.”