The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill Sunday morning that would give the interior minister and religious services minister the final say in the destruction or rezoning of all religious buildings in the country.

According to the bill, introduced by Shas MK Avraham Michaeli, there are many instances in which buildings that have been used for religious purposes for many years are slated for destruction or rezoning that would constitute a desecration of the site’s holiness and disregard the sensitivities of religious communities.

The bill also cites restrictions within Jewish law for changing the designated use of a building or property from holy to non-sanctified purposes.

However, MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz expressed sharp opposition to the bill, stating that it constituted an attempt by Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi, both of Shas, to take control over religious properties.

In addition, Horowitz claimed that the bill was also designed to give immunity for many buildings in the West Bank. If the bill is passed, he said, any building could be casually designated as a study hall or a basement of a synagogue and thus its destruction could be prevented.

“The intent of this bill is clear: Granting immunity to every structure, particularly in the territories, which are defined as ‘religious buildings,’ and the granting of veto rights to the Shas interior minister and religious services minister on everything connected to ‘religious buildings,’” Horowitz said. “This is another expression of the obsequiousness of the government before the true rulers of the state: Settler and haredi politicos.”

The bill was co-sponsored by several national-religious and haredi MKs, including Michael Ben-Ari, Uri Ariel and Arye Eldad of the National Union; Uri Maklev and Yisrael Eichler of United Torah Judaism; David Azoulay, Amnon Cohen, Nissim Ze’ev and Yitzhak Vaknin of Shas; and Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely of Likud.

In response to Horowitz’s criticism, Danon told The Jerusalem Post that the bill was designed to preserve the values and character of Israel as a Jewish state. He added that the Likud-led government had worked hard in this regard in the past three years, and would continue to do so “after the Likud’s victory in the coming elections.”

“The State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people,” said Danon.

“Only by preserving its religious values, including the provision of a special status for religious buildings, will we succeed in preserving the character of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

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