Britain’s top church leaders have urged the Israeli government not to cause a rift between the Jewish and Christian worlds by the “punitive” taxation of Christianity’s holiest site, located in Jerusalem.
In a letter to the Israeli ambassador to the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols expressed “deep concern” about new laws designed to get £130 million from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to have been killed.
In the joint letter to Mark Regev, the two faith leaders spoke of Israel’s “unprecedented, punitive and discriminatory taxation of Christian institutions” and their fears that the dispute could inflict long-term damage on relations between the two communities.
The letter said new laws to push through the tax demands “threaten to cause serious damage to the Christian presence in Jerusalem, to Christian families, and to the Christian institutions, including hospitals and schools, which serve many of the poorest people, regardless of their background”.
They added: “It is our view that the measures being pressed in Jerusalem and in the Knesset are a clear and evident threat to the status quo. These violations of historic agreements risk undermining prospects for peaceful coexistence between communities, at a time of already heightened tensions.”
A statement from the office from the Israeli Prime Minister said Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat have established a team led by Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, to formulate a solution for the issue. The team will negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue,and the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.
His office says “Israel is proud to be the only country in the Middle East where Christians and believers of all faiths have full freedom of religion and worship. Israel is home to a flourishing Christian community and welcomes its Christian friends from all over the world.”
Punitive and discriminatory taxes on #Jerusalem's churches clearly threaten the status quo at the city's holy sites. @CardinalNichols and I have urged the Israeli government urgently to address this crisis and enter talks with churches: https://t.co/JuknoE5tUS pic.twitter.com/thzqXWcVpV
— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) March 5, 2018