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The Great Synagogue.(Photo by: Wikimedia Commons/ Ariel Horowitz )
Groups petition High Court over synagogue tax exemption
By JOANNA PARASZCZUK
01/14/2012
NGOs says law discriminates against non-Jewish Israelis.
Social justice groups and Christian organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice over the weekend against a law granting synagogues exemption from municipal real-estate taxes (arnona).

The petition, filed by Jerusalem-based law firm Yehuda Raveh & Co on behalf of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and four other nonprofit groups, names as respondents Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein, the Interior Ministry and the Knesset, and concerns an amendment to the municipal and property tax law passed by the Knesset in March 2010.

The law, known as Amendment 17, exempts buildings or parts of buildings used for Torah study and religious culture from municipal taxes, where the main purpose of the building is a synagogue.

The petitioners, who also include the King of Kings Puerto Rican Church in Tel Aviv and the Tivat Harahamim charity, a Haifa-based Messianic (Christian) community, argue that the law violates the equality of religious minorities in Israel, because it does not apply to places of worship used by non- Jews.

According to the petition, the law violates Israel’s democratic character as well as human rights and social values by discriminating against citizens of other religions.

“Even if buildings used for education and Torah studies should be exempted, it is not worth the undoubted harm to democratic values and constitutional rights,” the petitioners claim.

They ask the High Court to issue an interim injunction ordering the attorney- general to instruct local authorities to interpret the law as applying to all places of worship used by Israeli citizens, including non-Jews, or to order the Knesset to amend the law so that it specifically refers to other religions, in particular mosques and churches.
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