Five foundations representing Christian communities in Israel have petitioned the High Court of Justice to implement equal treatment under the tax law for all religious houses of worship in the country.
The petition, lead by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, a civil rights group, was filed in response to an March 2010 amendment made to the capital’s municipal tax laws, fully exempting synagogues from property taxes.
As per the amendment, all religious prayer halls are exempt of property tax, while other facilities – classrooms, offices and event halls – are taxed as usual. Only synagogues’ entire properties – including spaces used for commercial purposes – are fully exempt.
The foundations claimed that the amendment undermines the Israel’s democratic character since it allows for discrimination against its residents.
The groups have demanded the court apply the amendment to all houses of worship, including the non-Jewish ones. Attorney Michael Decker, who represents the petitioners, said that the measure would not only bolster equality, but also allow followers of non-Jewish religions to make considerable savings.
“The municipalities charge tens of millions of shekels a year, in a manner that we consider a violation Basic Law,” he said.
Alternately, the groups have asked the court to annul the exemptions altogether.
Last month, Knesset members Moshe Gafni and Nissim Zeev have submitted a law proposal to rework the amendment and make it applicable to all religions, claiming that the amendment is not meant to discriminate against non-Jewish houses of worship.
“They want to promote the legislation quickly in order to benefit their own sector,” Decker said, estimating that the lawmakers fear that the court might strike the amendment, financially hurting synagogues.