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0202 – Points of View from Jerusalem


Digest About Crisis between Jerusalem Municipality and Churches:

"For the first time in its history; The Holy Sepulchre was closed today in protest of the municipality’s intention to tax the church.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the Middle East was closed to visitors today [Sunday, February 25] until further notice, as a sign of protest against Jerusalem Municipality’s plan to impose property tax on the city’s churches, and in protest of MP Rachel Azaria’s bill against the church. This is an extreme step, and the present crisis between the Greek Patriarchy, Armenian Patriarchy, and Catholic Church and the Jerusalem Municipality is at a record level. ‘This is the first time we close the gates because of a decision to tax us’, says the gatekeeper at the Holy Sepulchre.”
According to the MP Azaria’s bill, if a leasing agreement has been signed between a private entrepreneur and the church regarding residential lands, those lands will be transferred to the governmental ownership. If the lands that were leased by the Jewish National Fund, and have been transferred by a secondary lease to a private entrepreneur, the leased rights will be expropriated by the state, and the private investors will be compensated.
In response, MP Azaria, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem: ‘I understand that the church has been put under pressure, but their lands will remain theirs, no one will ever have the right to take them. My bill deals with what happens the moment the rights over the land has been sold to a third party. It is unacceptable that entrepreneurs will go door to door, threatening residents and demanding payments between 200 thousand and 500 thousand Shekel. The low prices for which entire neighborhoods were sold show the this is a speculative deal. In such a situation, the Patriarchy is irrelevant to the issue, because the lands we are speaking of have already been sold to private investors…I will draft a bill that will exempt the churches from the need to pay property tax, like other religious institutions.’”

– myNet Jerusalem

"It’s interesting to read articles and to uncover their hidden agendas. It’s even more interesting when such hidden agendas are about Jerusalem. […]
The church is closing the Holy Sepulchre, a dramatic move by itself, in protest of the ‘Church Lands’ bill that will be proposed today [Sunday, February 25] in the Minister’s Legislation Committee, whose aim is to put an end to the fact that the land of entire neighborhoods in the city has been transferred into the hands of unknown, private investors, and that has left thousands of families in a state of uncertainty – their homes have been taken from them.

The spin of this article is idiotic, because as the proposer of the bill mentions in the article: the state will only expropriate lands that have already been sold to private entrepreneurs, not lands owned by the church. So why then is the church up in arms? They are probably planning to sell more lands to private investors, and are afraid that the state’s action will scare away potential buyers. Their fear is justified, because this will probably happen (On a side note – there are more than a few who think the law is supposed to frighten away private investors, so as to enable reaching a compromise with them, because the current bill poses a contradiction to the right to property, and it is not clear if, in its current version, it will be allowed by the Supreme Court).
Spin No. 2 – That same Rachel Azaria, also mentions the issue of imposing property taxes on the churches: As is written in the article, Azaria says that Barkat [Jerusalem Mayor] ‘is creating an unnecessary diplomatic crisis, instead of taking care of things, he is scheming, and that she promises to draft a law proposal that will ensure the church's exemption from property taxes.
Where’s the spin? First of all, that law already exists, and Azaria doesn’t need to create it. Religious institutions are exempt from property taxes by law. Secondly, this isn’t Barkat’s move. The above mentioned step is related to the imposition of property taxes on business properties owned by the church – hotels, businesses and so on. And in my opinion, it is very justified. I mean, what, if tomorrow, the church of the spaghetti monster decides to buy land in the city center, and run a pub there – they would not have to pay property tax? Why not? Because they believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster? […]
Is there a third spin behind Barkat’s move? I haven’t been able to find one. It sounds to me like a completely justified step, especially as he is the mayor of the poorest city in Israel, and is looking as hard as possible for funds. I mean, we’re speaking about 650 million shekels. A lot of money. The problem is that there’s a good chance the church doesn’t have the money, and then it’s back to the state (Barkat demands compensation from the state if they want him to let the churches off), and then – where will Kahlon [Finance Minister] get 650 million shekels? So maybe it’s a semi-spin, or maybe Barkat is hoping to get back at Kahlon. If possible, why not…

– Other Jerusalem, West Jerusalemite FB page

0202 Editor's Notes:
Some west Jerusalemite neighborhoods are built on land owned by different churches, and leased to the owners, either directly, or through the Jewish National Fund. Recently, as the lease agreement is nearing its end, private investors have bought part of the Churches' land, and have demanded payment from residents living on those lands.

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