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Portugal To Offer Citizenship To Descendants Of Expelled Jews

A woman walks Wednesday past a monument to the Jews in Lisbon believed to have been killed in a pogrom in 1506. Portugal is following Spain and granting citizenship rights to the descendants of Jews it persecuted 500 years ago.

Portugal's Cabinet approved a law today that would offer citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled, burned at the stake or forcibly converted to Christianity 500 years ago.

"I do not want to say this is an historic amendment because I believe that for this matter, there is no possibility to amend what was done," Portuguese Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz said, according to The Associated Press. "I would say it is the attribution of a right."

The AP adds: "Applicants will be vetted by Portuguese Jewish community institutions, as well as by government agencies. They will have to say whether they have a criminal record."

The law, which grants Portuguese citizenship in addition to the applicant's current nationality, is expected to go into effect by mid-February or early March, Oulman Carp, president of Lisbon's Jewish community, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The legislation, which was approved by Parliament in 2013, will also apply to non-Jewish descendants of the Sephardim who once lived in the Iberian Peninsula, Carp said.

Portugal's Jews, who once numbered in the tens of thousands, were expelled in 1536 during the Portuguese Inquisition. About 1,000 Jews remain in the country today.

The Portuguese measure mirrors a similar effort in Spain, which is also trying to atone for its history of anti-Semitism during the Spanish Inquisition. As NPR's Emily Harris and Lauren Frayer reported in December, Spain's government approved a draft law that would grant Spanish citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled in 1492.

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