Israelis Look to Inquisition Roots for Portuguese Passports


Israelis Look to Inquisition Roots for Portuguese Passports
An alley in the former Jewish quarter in one of Lisbon’s most historic neighborhoods of Alfama, Portugal. (Reuters/Catarina Demony)

Danny Roup, a popular Israeli weatherman, does not necessarily see clouds on the geopolitical horizon. But he thought it worth digging into his centuries-old family roots in order to get a second, Portuguese passport.

Roup is among thousands of Israelis who have embraced a citizenship offer by Portugal to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the Iberian peninsula during the medieval Inquisition.

Some applicants want to move to Portugal, or use it as a stepping stone to the European Union’s educational and job opportunities. Others are seeking a reprieve from the turbulent Middle East.

“You can never know what will happen in this region in the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 years. So it’s always good to have another passport, especially if it’s a European passport,” said Roup, 54.

Israelis Look to Inquisition Roots for Portuguese Passports
A memorial marking the Jewish Massacre of 1506 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Reuters/Catarina Demony)

Portugal, which has seen a rise in applications since a similar citizenship offer to Sephardic Jews by Spain ended in October, describes its policy in terms of redress.

“Our history is a very important one but with certain shadows – and one of the most relevant shadows was forcing the Jews to abandon the country or to convert to Christianity,” Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told Reuters.

“We lost a lot of our Jewish influence and we are trying to retrieve this influence.”

The citizenship application takes around two years. Some 20 percent are approved.

Experts at one of Portugal’s Jewish centers, Lisbon or Porto, vet applicants’ genealogies and look for evidence of interest in Sephardi culture – for example, knowledge of the Judeo-Spanish dialect Ladino.

Lisbon-based immigration lawyer Renato Martins said many of his Sephardic clients see the “investment potential” of a Portuguese passport, especially for real estate.

Silva said most of the 44,000 applications received since the Portuguese offer opened in 2015 have been from Israel.

Ilan Dahan, 48, a father of three, originally from Haifa, moved to Portugal after being approved in 2017.

“There were lots of wars, lots of bullets. We wanted to be safe, especially with kids,” he said.

Roup does not want to leave Israel but says Portuguese citizenship could help his children, who can apply as adults.