Jerusalem mayor suspends plan to tax Christian church properties
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and leaders of other Christian denominations closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in protest over an order by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat.
Jerusalem’s mayor has suspended a plan to impose taxes on properties owned by Christian churches, backing away from a move that had enraged religious leaders and led to the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said a professional team is being established to negotiate with church officials to “formulate a solution”.
It added: “As a result, the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.”
There was no immediate reaction from church leaders, and it is unclear whether the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will reopen.
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and leaders of other Christian denominations closed the famed church on Sunday in protest over an order by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat to begin taxing their properties.
The church is revered as the site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and the decision closed one of Jerusalem’s most visited holy sites just ahead of the busy Easter season.
Mr Barkat said his decision affected only commercial properties, such as hotels, restaurants and offices, and not houses of worship. He said other cities followed similar practices worldwide.
“As the mayor of the city of Jerusalem, my goal and role is to make sure people pay their taxes,” he said in an interview.
“We have no negative or bad intentions here.”
The churches accused Mr Barkat of acting in bad faith and undermining a long-standing status quo. They said their non-church properties still serve religious purposes by providing services to pilgrims and local flocks.
In Tuesday’s announcement, Mr Netanyahu said cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi would head the new negotiating committee, which will include representatives from the city, and the finance, foreign and interior ministries.
In addition to suspending tax collection, Mr Netanyahu’s office said that proposed legislation governing the sale of church lands in Jerusalem was also being suspended.