Russian Jews apply for Portuguese instead of Israeli citizenship


Eastern Europe


Prayer in the synagogue in Moscow. Photo AFP, Yuri Tutov

Russians with Jewish roots are increasingly applying for citizenship of Portugal, instead of Israel, due to a difference in formalities.

President of the Israeli Russian-speaking Bar Association, lawyer Eli Gervitz, spoke about a „competition for Israeli citizenship" in an interview with Russian media outlet RIA Novosti on Wednesday.

On the one hand, the procedure for obtaining Israeli citizenship is simpler. However, Mr Gervitz notes that there are certain procedural points that work „in Portugal's favour."

To obtain Israeli citizenship, one must only prove connection to a specific Jewish ancestor. However, the right to repatriate to Israel extends through the male line only to the third generation (unlimited on the female line). According to Jewish religious laws, Judaism is transmitted exclusively through the female line.

So, a person who is the son of a Jewish man is a Jew, and a person who is a grandson of a Jew, is no longer a Jew himself, but he can apply for Israeli citizenship together with his children. A Jew's great-grandchild can no longer apply for Israeli citizenship, Mr Gervitz explains.

Surname is enough

In Portugal, the lawyer emphasises, the situation is reversed. On the one hand, you have to prove your connection to Judaism, not two generations ago, but 500-600 years ago. On the other hand, there is no restriction from the point of view of gender. Connection to a Jewish ancestor can already be proven by the surname, which is usually passed on to the paternal side.

Spain and Portugal were once important centres of Jewish life in Europe, until persecution under the Inquisition started and many Jews fled. „Spain, which a few years ago was the first to open the doors for the descendants of Jews expelled hundreds of years ago, apparently, concluded that it had already paid off all her debts for the Inquisition five hundred years ago. But Portugal still meets people who can prove their Jewish (the so-called Sephardic) origin, with open arms", the lawyer explained.

Israel tightened the requirements for repatriation in recent years and there is discussion in parliament about amending the so-called Law of Return. So, it is not surprising more Russian Jews who want to leave their country are applying for Portuguese citizenship, Mr Gervits said.


The most well-known example of a Jew being granted Portuguese citizenship is Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of British soccer club Chelsea. He obtained his EU passport in April, but this was only confirmed earlier this month.

Abramovich needed to prove that he is descended from Jews whose families fled the Iberian Peninsula following the Inquisition. According to Israeli newspaper Times of Israel, a spokesperson for the billionaire had confirmed a report by Portuguese newspaper Publico that the oligarch gained Portuguese citizenship in April.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.