Israel's parliament has voted to begin drafting large numbers of ultra-Orthodox men into the military. AFP FILE PHOTO/JACK GUEZ

Madrid - Spain's government said Monday it plans to make it easier for the descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492 to obtain Spanish citizenship.

Spain already allows nationality to be conferred to proven Sephardic Jews, the descendants of the Jewish people who were expelled more than 500 years ago in a period of Roman Catholic zeal under the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand.

But under draft legislation approved by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's centre-right government Friday, successful applicants can also keep their original citizenship.

Current legislation stipulates that Sephardic Jews granted Spanish nationality have to give up their existing citizenship, a stumbling block for some.

The draft legislation allowing double nationality for Sephardic Jews has yet to be debated and voted on in parliament, where the ruling Popular Party has an outright majority.

“We do not know when it will be voted on by parliament. It was approved by the cabinet only on Friday,” a justice ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Spain only allows citizens of a handful of countries, mainly its former colonies in Latin America, to become Spanish nationals without surrendering their current citizenship.

“The draft law highlights the special ties the Sephardic community has with Spain since its expulsion in 1492 and which is symbolised in the keys which many have kept to their homes in Sepharad (Spain in Hebrew),” the Spanish government said in a statement.

Jewish leaders welcomed the move.

“This is an historic recognition of what occurred more than 500 years ago when the Jews of Spain were formally expelled or faced death if they did not convert to Catholicism,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the chief executive of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations.

In 1492, Spain's monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand gave the country's Jews and Muslims three choices: convert to Roman Catholicism, leave the country, or face execution without trial.

It is difficult to estimate how many people can benefit from the new measure but Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon estimated in 2012 that there are about 250 000 people around the world who speak Judeo-Spanish, a language used by Jews originating from Spain.