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Once hounded, Sephardic Jews find Spanish embrace

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In this photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, touches his face during an interview with the Associated Press in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Mr. Hoenlein, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship but said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility that probably won’t be resolved until after the bill is turned into law, a process expected to take weeks or months. (AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, touches his face during an interview with the Associated Press in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Mr. Hoenlein, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship but said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility that probably won’t be resolved until after the bill is turned into law, a process expected to take weeks or months. (AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, poses before an interview with the Associated Press in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Mr. Hoenlein, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship but said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility that probably won’t be resolved until after the bill is turned into law, a process expected to take weeks or months. (AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, poses before an interview with the Associated Press in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Mr. Hoenlein, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship but said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility that probably won’t be resolved until after the bill is turned into law, a process expected to take weeks or months. (AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, during an interview with the Associated Press in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Mr. Hoenlein, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship but said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility that probably won’t be resolved until after the bill is turned into law, a process expected to take weeks or months. (AP/Photo Gabriel Pecot)

In this photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Asked whether the new law amounted to an apology, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon replied: “Without a doubt.” (AP Photo/Paul White)

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MADRID (AP) — They were burned at the stake, forced to convert or chased into exile. Now Spain is moving to right a half-millennium old “historic mistake” against its onetime flourishing Sephardic Jewish community: the EU country is on the verge of offering citizenship to descendants of victims — estimated to number in the millions.

The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks or months in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Asked whether the new law amounted to an apology, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon replied: “Without a doubt.”

“What the law will do, five centuries later, is make amends for a terrible historic mistake, one of the worst that Spaniards ever made,” Ruiz-Gallardon told The Associated Press in an interview.

Descendants of Sephardic Jews, he said, will be considered “children of Spain.”

The term “Sephardic” literally means “Spanish” in Hebrew, but the label has come also to apply to one of the two main variants of Jewish religious practice. The other — and globally dominant one — being “Ashkenazic,” which applies to Jews whose lineage, in recent times, is traced to northern and eastern Europe.

Because of mixing between the groups and other factors, there is no accepted figure for the global Sephardic population — but reasonable estimates would range between a fifth and a third of the world’s roughly 13 million Jews. Hundreds of thousands live in France — and so already have an EU passport. But the largest community is in Israel, where almost half of the 6 million Jews are considered Sephardic.

It is not completely clear how much of a historical link Spain will require. Most of Israel’s Sephardics hail from northern Africa and southern Europe, which were early ports of call after the expulsion from Spain, and so they may be able to easily

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