British Church Leaders Ask Israel to Not Tax Church Properties

A group of British clergy representing both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have sent a letter asking Israel to not tax church properties.

In a joint letter sent to Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged the Middle Eastern government to maintain "status quo" on church property tax.

The letter argued that the current consideration of levying taxes on church properties "threaten to cause serious damage to the Christian presence in Jerusalem, to Christian families, and to the Christian institutions, including hospitals and schools, which serve many of the poorest people, regardless of their background."

"It is our view that the measures being pressed in Jerusalem and in the Knesset are a clear and evident threat to the status quo," read the letter, according to Crux.

"These violations of historic agreements risk undermining prospects for peaceful coexistence between communities, at a time of already heightened tensions."

The clergymen's letter comes after the conclusion of a three-day standoff between the Christian churches in Jerusalem and the government over the issue of unpaid back taxes for church-owned commercial properties.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre temporarily closed in response to a bill being considered by the government to tax the church bodies' various properties and dispossess lands sold by the churches since 2010 to private investors.

"This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe," declared Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Church leaders in a joint statement released last month.

"This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic, ab antiquo and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades."

Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Jerusalem Municipality and Knesset would suspend efforts to collect the unpaid taxes as part of an interim agreement.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Barkat have agreed that a professional team led by Minister Hanegbi, including representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Jerusalem Municipality, will formulate a solution to the issue of municipal taxes (which do not apply to houses of worship). The team will negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue," read a statement from the government.

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