Netanyahu at the 2018 Christian Media Summit.
(photo credit: GPO)
In an urgent letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, three leaders of the dominant churches in Jerusalem urged him to stop the advancement of the so-called "properties bill" which aims to nationalize properties used for housing that were owned by the church and sold to private entrepreneurs.
Greek Orthodox leader Patriarch Theophilos III; Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian; and Roman Catholic Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, expressed their astonishment and disappointment after having learned that the bill was listed on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this coming Sunday. This follows previous exchanges they had had with Netanyahu and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi in a bid to nix the legislation.
In the most recent letter sent by Netanyahu to the church leader in July, he told them that "Since receiving your letter, Minister Tzahi Hanegbi
has met with representatives of relevant government ministries in order to study the issues and to explore an equitable solution. He has also recommended that the specific legislation in question be withdrawn."
"It is with sense of great disappointment that we, the heads of the Churches in the Holy Land find ourselves compelled to approach you again after learning that the scandalous bill advanced by Member of Knesset Rachel Azaria aiming at the confiscation of Church properties in the Holy Land, is scheduled to be discussed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this coming Sunday October 21st, 2018," the church leaders wrote to Netanyahu on Friday.
In February, the crisis over the bill, among other issues, peaked with a rare three-day closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The church leaders say it is a flagrant breach of the status quo, "constitutes a systematic and unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land and violates the most basic rights, thus trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the State of Israel for decades."
Azaria says these claims are false and in June said that another bill – not targeting the churches specifically – had been submitted in order to prevent damage to residents living on the previously church-owned properties. “Per the prime minister’s and the official’s request, we have long halted the advancement of the bill. We have no intention in advancing a bill that discriminates the churches,” Azaria said at the time.
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Udi Shaham contributed to this report
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