09/13/2004, 00.00
ISRAEL - VATICAN
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Interior Minister Poraz to visit Vatican tomorrow

Taxes on Church properties in the Holy Land will be on the discussion table.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel's Interior Minister Avraham Poraz will visit the Pope tomorrow in the Vatican, this according to Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. The paper reports that Poraz's visit to the Vatican is possibly linked to the ongoing negotiations between the Holy See and the state of Israel – the last session ended a few days ago– concerning the Interior Ministry's jurisdiction over tax exemption for Church properties.

Tax exempt status for religious property is guaranteed under Israeli law and enshrined in United Nations conventions. Israel's Supreme Court confirmed such guarantees which should be included in the bilateral accord with the Catholic Church. But in December 2002, as talks between the two parties were under way, the Israeli government restricted the application of the tax exemption status complicating what should have been the easiest item on the negotiating table.

Avraham Poraz co-founded the Shinui party and is one of its main leaders. With 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Shinui is the second largest party in the governing coalition. In the last elections, the party ran on a secular-oriented platform opposing the more theocratic aspects of Israeli law and pledging its support for a society based on the values of western liberal democracy.

Its base of support is found largely in the secular-oriented middle and upper-middle class that is drawn to the party's neo-liberal economic orientation (lower taxes, less public spending, privatisations, etc.). However, the party seems to have let down many of its voters. Whilst Shinui voters might be pleased with Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu economic policies, they are less pleased with the lack of progress towards a less theocratic state. They are especially disappointed in Shinui's failure to get its one major policy objective adopted, namely civil marriage.

Under current Israeli law, only religious marriage is legal. Hundreds of thousands of people who are unaffiliated to any religion are thus denied the right to a legal marriage; others who might be officially registered as members of a given religion must submit to a religious marriage whether they want to or not. Even a former Chief Rabbi of Israel has come out in favour of civil marriage, but Shinui has not yet been able to get its proposal accepted.

As Interior Minister, Avraham Poraz has other fish to fry these days, namely the unprecedented situation of unpaid municipal officials living near poverty, some even living in absolute indigence.

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