Church leaders in Jerusalem last week threatened to upset the very foundations of relations between Israel and the Christian world.
The bee in their bonnet? A perceived deliberate delay by Israeli authorities in approving the sale of Church lands.
Ironically, these same Church leaders had just a month earlier flown into a tizzy over quite the opposite, when Israeli officials yet again upheld a land sale that the priests had come to regret.
Israel’s Ministry of Justice is engaging in hostile treatment of the local representatives of Christianity. So complained the heads of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Catholic Diocese and the Armenian Orthodox Church in a strongly-worded letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as reported by Yediot Ahronot.
According to these Church leaders, Israel’s Deputy Attorney General ordered the Jerusalem Municipality to delay the issuing of a certificate confirming that there are no debts on certain lands that the Church wishes to sell. Without that certificate, the sale can’t be completed.
Without that certificate, Christian-Israel relations are also apparently in grave danger. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)
“The abusive behavior by these officials could lead to a deterioration in relations between the Christian world and the State of Israel,” stated the priests, as if they speak for all Christians in the world. They further threatened to take “drastic measures” if Israel doesn’t immediately let them sell the lands in question. “We’ll close the Church of the Holy Sepulcher!” they snapped.
The irony of the situation is that just over a month ago, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch was fighting quite the opposite battle, trying to get Israeli courts to overturn the earlier sale of properties just inside Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate to a buyer that turned out to be Ateret Cohanim, an organization that works to boost the Jewish presence in Jerusalem’s Old City. (See: Court Orders Church to Honor Sale of Jerusalem Properties to Israeli ‘Settlers’)
In both cases, the traditional churches rooted in the Land have a tendency to employ near-apocalyptic rhetoric when expressing their frustration with Israeli bureaucracy, which is quite frankly a pain in the ass for all Israelis.
Following a similar outburst in 2017, Jerusalem City Councilwoman Fleur Hassan-Nahoum urged Church leaders to be more responsible with their words.
“Making it a religious issue turns Jerusalem – which is a very delicate city, with a lot of conflict – into a very difficult place for the religions. We live in a place that a statement from a religious leader can cause devastation the next day,” the councilwoman told The Jerusalem Post at the time.