Turks eye Spanish passport offer as elections approach


As Turks go to the polls for the general election on June 7, some of the country's Jews are applying for Spanish citizenship. They are motivated both by visa-free travel in Europe and the chance to escape what some see as rising antisemitism under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's premiership.

Spain expelled some 300,000 Jews during the Inquisition in 1492. The country's Sephardic Ancestry Bill, which was due to pass through the Senate in Madrid last week, invites their descendants - as many as 3.5 million Sephardic Jews around the world - to return.

Thousands of Jews in Turkey can trace their ancestry back to Spain and some have already applied for Spanish citizenship. Among them is Yoel Benezra, 31, who works for an export company in Istanbul. He said many members of his family and Jewish friends had applied for a Spanish passport too.

"I would rather live in Spain," said Mr Benezra. "It's a more modern country where people have rights. It's getting more and more uncomfortable living as a Jew here in Turkey. A friend of mine had a daughter two years ago and he is now moving to Canada because he doesn't believe his daughter has a future here." Mr Benezra said he and most of his friends had experienced antisemitism. "Turkish Jews are made to feel like they don't belong, like we're not Turkish. As a friend wrote on Facebook recently, Turkey will never love us as much as we love it."

Milen Nae, a 31-year-old artist, said she was applying for Spanish citizenship "for the freedom of travel that it brings. I might settle somewhere else in the future, but not because of growing antisemitism in Turkey, a country that I love, but because of the growing anti-humanism that the government here is creating".

However, not everyone agreed that Turkey was unsafe for Jews. An official from the Izmir Jewish community said he had no plans to apply for Spanish citizenship and did not intend to leave Izmir, which he called a "tolerant city".

He said he knew of other Jews who had applied for and been granted Spanish citizenship, although none of them had left yet. He said he suspected visa-free travel in Europe was the main motivation, insisting that "as in all over the world, in Turkey anti-Israeli sentiments tend to turn into anti-Jewish sentiments, but apart from that everything is okay here".

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