JERUSALEM — The leaders of the major Christian sects in Jerusalem say they are closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for several hours to protest an Israeli plan to tax their properties.
The churches responsible for the site issued a joint statement on Sunday bemoaning a “systematic campaign of abuse” against them, comparing it to anti-Jewish laws issued in Nazi Germany.
The churches are angry about the Jerusalem municipality’s plans to tax their various assets around the city and a potential parliament bill to expropriate land sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
The Jerusalem municipality says it continues to care for Christians’ needs and their full freedom of worship, but “hotels, halls and businesses cannot be exempt from municipal taxes simply because they are owned by the churches.”
Although the Church of the Holy Sepulchre serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, it is jointly administered by several Christian denominations, including the Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic churches, and, to a lesser degree, the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopian Tewahedo churches.
The tax status of church-owned properties in Israel has been a longstanding tension between the denominations and the Israeli government. The Vatican and Israel have been conducting on-again, off-again negotiations in an effort to reach an accord on Catholic properties since a Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and Israel was signed in 1993.
The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel last met in June 2017, with both parties expressing hope for “a rapid conclusion of ongoing negotiations and the signing of the document.”
(Crux staff contributed to this report.)