Christian and Jewish leaders clashed over Christianity’s most holy site this week, after new Israeli tax demands led the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to close.
In an emotive joint statement, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic church leaders took aim at a proposed new Israeli law, worth tens of millions of pounds, saying it was an attack on Christianity.
Describing it as “abhorrent” they said the bill “reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe”.
Christian leaders say the property bill would let the Israeli state claim church-owned land but supporters say it is meant to protect Israelis living on former Church land sold to private developers from the risk these companies will not extend their leases.
It is extremely rare to close the huge church, believed to be built on the site Jesus was killed, or for church leaders to accuse Israel of a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land”.
Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat is trying to raise £133 million from the Church and this week Jewish lawmakers defended the bill, accusing the Church of “using religion to protest an issue which is purely about money”.
British-born Fleur Hassan Nahoum, a Jerusalem City Council member and Leader of the Yerushalmim Party, who promoted the law, argued that the church was “in no danger of losing any property in Jerusalem”.
She said: “It is about property the church already sold to third parties over the heads of the leaseholders who are in danger of losing their homes.
“We want to ensure that residents are not extorted for a leasehold extension in the future by anonymous third parties and that the church is prevented from making millions on the back of thousands of Jerusalem residents.”
However the Church leaders said it was instead “an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem,” describing it as “discriminatory and racist”.
They added: “If approved, it would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible… This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature, which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.”