Prominent Christian leaders in America co-signed a letter Tuesday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat asking them to reconsider a proposed plan to tax church-owned properties in the city.
Currently, properties owned by churches are not taxed.
In the March 13 letter, the leaders warned that the policies would “severely inhibit” the work of the churches in and around Jerusalem, and would disrupt the Status Quo policy.
“If enacted, these measures would have the effect of creating a situation that jeopardizes the very survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land,” they said.
The letter was signed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
The letter argued that the work of the churches — which includes health care, schools, and other charitable work — is integral to their mission, and benefits the greater Jerusalem community.
The group also sent a letter to the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem and to Fr. Francesco Patton, OFM, Custos of the Holy Land, expressing their “fervent solidarity” with not only their Churches, but also with all Christians currently living in the area.
“We will continue to press the Israeli government on your behalf,” they said, adding that they would be in support of any “peaceful and lawful measures” taken to preserve the Christian community.
“We note with grave concern that the ability of a number of the churches to continue their important activities already has been impaired or even halted by tax liens against several of their bank accounts,” they said, elaborating that they impede the work done by the churches.
“These acts stifle the immediate work of the church as well as create a long-term situation that threatens the very existence of the Christian community in the Holy Land.”
Last month, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the spot where Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected, was closed for two days as a protest against a similar proposal. The church was then re-opened after the city decided against the policies.