06/08/2009, 00.00
ISRAEL - VATICAN

Ministry for Finance seizes Church funds. Holy See-Israeli negotiations at stake

Arieh Cohen
Only weeks after Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel, Tax Chief Yehezkel Abrahamoff, has seized church funds to force ecclesial institutions to pay tax, instead of waiting for the outcome of negotiations on the fiscal statute of the Church in Israel. A personal initiative or a change in the policy of the Netanyahu government? Possibile problems for schools and hospitals.
Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) -  The Chief Tax Collector at Israel's Finance Ministry, Yehezkel Abrahamoff, has notified institutions of the Catholic Church in Israel that he has seized their funds, in order to force them to submit at once to all of the fiscal demands that he considers applicable to them, ahead of the Agreement on the fiscal status of the Church, which is being negotiate, among other things, between the Holy See and the State of Israel.

In the last few hours, AsiaNews has received both documentation and testimony to this effect. The institutions concerned have, however, insisted on not being named, for fear of reprisals on the part of the Tax Authority. The radical initiative of Mr. Abrahamoff comes only a few weeks after the departure from Israel of Pope Benedict XVI, whose visit was thought to favour precisely progress towards the much awaited Agreement between the Holy See and the Jewish State. At this time it is not yet possible to know whether it is a matter of the personal decision of a single functionary, albeit a particularly powerful one, or whether it reflects a radical change of direction by the Netanyahu Government. An expert on Church-State relations in Israel, reached by AsiaNews, says he is confident that the Government knows nothing of what he says must be the idea of a single individual. The expert foresees that when the Head of the Government is informed of the matter, the functionary will be reprimanded and the attachment orders annulled, with apologies.

The negotiators for the Holy See and the State of Israel, the expert recalls, issued their most recent Joint Communiqué on 30 April, when they spoke of the talks as being conducted "in friendship", and re-committed the Parties to working out bilaterally an agreed fiscal regime for the Church in Israel. But the Government, he adds, will have to intervene quickly to avoid the serious damage that the "excesses" of a single functionary could cause to the good relations with the Church. In any case, he observes, the Government's intervention to quash the orders will have to be very quick, since otherwise the institutions of the Church, especially schools and hospitals may soon find it difficult to cover essential expenses for the purchase of goods and services.

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