The payment of US$5 million is exacted in accumulated taxes, and the blocking of the Vatican institution’s accounts comes into force until the payment is effected of the amount imposed unilaterally by the Israeli Government.
Made public on Monday, February 6 was that the Municipality of Jerusalem asked Isracard and VISA , since before December 25, 2022, to block the funds of one of the most emblematic institutions of the Vatican in the whole of Israel: the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.
The current laws of the State of Israel exempt religious institutions from the payment of taxes on their properties. The Times of Israel pointed out that in the past the Government has sought to come to a diplomatic agreement with the Vatican, to subject some Holy See properties in the country to the payment of taxes, considering them to be of a commercial nature.
The Holy See and Israel have had diplomatic relations since 1993, but issues regarding taxes and property rights have remained unresolved. Hence the Catholic Church in Israel considers that, in the absence of a final agreement, there is no encumbrance. Appeal is made, moreover, both to historical precedents as well as the Ottoman status quo of 1852, and the codified exemption in the legislation of the British mandate of 1934 and 1938.
Matters remained thus until 2018, when Jerusalem’s Municipal Government considered that the exemption did not apply to Notre Dame’s guesthouse for pilgrims and taxed ecclesiastical properties, not only Catholic ones. However, for the General Manager of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center this is not justified: “We are a non-profit organization at the service of pilgrims. We foment tourism in Jerusalem. Is this how they pay us back?” said Yousef Barakat to The Times of Israel.
It was also in 2018 that even some members of the Parliament at the time invited to expropriate properties of the Church in the city center. The answer at that time was the closing of the Holy Sepulcher, a decision taken unanimously by the leaders of the three Christian Confessions that control the sacred site: Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians.
The response of the National Government was a series of meetings between the Vatican and a Minister of Benjamin Netanyahu , but they did not come to the definitive signing of an agreement between the sides.
To the recent litigation between the Municipality and the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center is added the fact that Jewish proprietors of hotels in the City are threatening to go to the Supreme Court as they accuse the Vatican institute of disloyal competition. For the General Manager of the Notre Dame Center it is an issue that is relived every time there is a new Mayor or a new Government.
In the last weeks of 2022 and in early 2023, several incidents of intolerance have been repeated of Jews against Christians. Pointed out, among many other incidents, is the profanation of a Christian cemetery by young Israelis and the destruction of an image of Christ in the Church of the Flagellation by an American Jew.
According to a source in Jerusalem consulted by ZENIT, underway already is a rapprochement between the Pope’s Nuncio and the Municipal Government, although what they hope for is an official diplomatic agreement, something that exceeds Jerusalem’s Municipal Government. Whatever the outcome, the accounts are frozen and the demand for payment remains firm.