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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed in protest of proposed property taxes, February 2018.(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Bipartisan group of congressmen slam Israel over bill to seize Church land
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
11/07/2018
“We are concerned that this bill threatens the sustainability of the historic Christian presence in Jerusalem,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers, including a top democratic senator and seven congressmen, has sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo protesting Israel’s 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

The letter was signed by a mix of republicans and democrats including: Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Jeff Fortenberry, Randy Hultgren, James McGovern, Robert Aderholt, Andy Harris and Anna Eshoo.

“We are concerned that this bill threatens the sustainability of the historic Christian presence in Jerusalem,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Pompeo, obtained by The Jerusalem Post.

 


Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria proposed the bill, signed by 61 lawmakers, in response to the Greek Orthodox Church’s recent sale of its control of 50 hectares (about 124 acres) of land in the capital, containing more than 1,000 housing units, to an anonymous group of investors.

Azaria’s bill proposes that the rights to land leased to the JNF or anyone else by the Greek Orthodox Church, and then sold, will go to the state. The state will compensate whomever bought the rights from the church.

The lawmakers wrote that if the bill proceeds, it will make it “impossible for the churches to continue to deliver their ministry within the wider community.”

They asked that the US government do everything “within its power to work with the government of Israel to resolve this matter and ensure a lasting resolution of the church properties issue.”

In the most recent letter sent by Netanyahu to the church leader in July, he told them "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 He has also recommended that the specific legislation in question be withdrawn."

In February, the crisis over the bill, among other issues, peaked with a rare three-day closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
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