The Jerusalem Municipality this week imposed foreclosures on the bank accounts of several churches over accrued property tax debts on their commercial assets, Israel Hayom reported Friday. The debts cited are by the Catholic Church – $3.5 million; the Anglican Church – $2.1 million; the Armenian Church – $588,000; and the Greek Orthodox Church – $167,000.
The foreclosures follow a recent notification sent by the Jerusalem Municipality to the Finance Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry that it plans to start charging municipal property taxes, fees and levies totaling close to $200 million from 887 properties belonging to churches and to UN institutions in Jerusalem,.
The municipality stressed that these are not houses of worship, which are exempt from the municipal property tax, but assets purposed for commercial and other non-religious activities.
To date, the state has demanded that the municipality refrain from collecting these debts in light of previous agreements with the churches. But the municipality presented a legal opinion by Prof. Gabriel Halevy, an expert on international law, who examined in-depth the various legal aspects of the debts of the Churches and the United Nations to the Jerusalem Municipality, and concluded unequivocally that there is no basis for the position of the state, and that the municipality is obligated by law to collect those debts.
Jerusalem municipality officials explained that “the financial damage inflicted on Jerusalem over the years because of the state’s position is close to one billion shekels ($300 million). It is inconceivable that the residents of Jerusalem will have to finance municipal services for churches and the UN, such as garbage collection, street lighting, gardening, and road construction. These sums can significantly help the development of the city and the improvement of services to the residents.”
The city is prepared to appear to the High Court of Justice should the state continues to forbid its collection of those debts – unless the state is prepared to pay Jerusalem the money it is owed.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told Israel Hayom: “We will not accept that the residents of Jerusalem should pay these huge sums. Let the state will indemnify us and return the money earmarked for the development of the city, or we will collect it as required by law.”