The re-opening of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after a three-day closure was the topic of a report that appeared on the BBC News website on February 28th under the headline “Jerusalem: Christianity’s ‘holiest site’ Holy Sepulchre reopens after protest“.
“The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has reopened, three days after Christian leaders closed it in protest at plans to tax Church properties in the city. […]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday there would be negotiations to try to resolve the dispute, prompting the mayor [of Jerusalem] to suspend changes.”
The report goes on to mislead readers by stating that:
“Church officials also objected to a bill the Israeli government was considering, which they feared would let the state claim Church-owned land.” [emphasis added]
The bill concerned does nothing of the sort. As the Times of Israel explains, it relates to land already sold by the Church and hence no longer “Church-owned” – as inaccurately claimed by the BBC.
“After the church was shuttered, lawmakers on Sunday postponed for a week a Knesset committee debate on a bill that would allow Israel to confiscate land sold by the churches to private developers in cases where homes had been built on the lands.
The advancement of the legislation, initiated by Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria and backed by the Justice Ministry, is fiercely opposed by church leaders, who have decried what they see as attempts by Israel to limit their ability to buy and sell their only real assets — real estate.
Azaria says her bill seeks to protect hundreds of Israelis, largely in Jerusalem, whose homes are located on land that, until recently, was owned and leased to them by the churches, principally the Greek Orthodox Church — in most cases under 99-year contracts signed in the 1950s between the church and the state, via the Jewish National Fund.
The contracts state that when the leases run out, any buildings on them will revert back to the church. Residents expected that the leases would be extended. But in recent years, in order to erase massive debts, the Greek Orthodox Church has sold vast swaths of real estate to private investors, and nobody knows whether they will renew the leases, and if so, under what conditions.”
However, as was the case in a previous BBC report on this story, we see later on in the article that the BBC is aware that the statement alleging that the Israeli state would be able to “claim Church-owned land” is inaccurate – once again raising the question of why the corporation elected to knowingly amplify that inaccuracy.
“Supporters of the bill say it is meant to protect Israelis living on former Church land sold to private developers from the risk that these companies will not extend their leases.
Christian leaders say the proposed law would make it harder to sell Church land, a key source of funds.”
Equally remarkable is the fact that the anonymous writer of this BBC report elected to re-amplify a Nazi analogy previously promoted by church leaders even though it did not appear in the statement they put out after Israel announced that a committee would be set up to resolve the issues.
“Branding the bill “abhorrent”, Christian leaders released a joint statement saying it reminded them “of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe”.”
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism – adopted by the British government in 2016 – states that one manifestation of antisemitism is “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”.
The fact that those “Christian leaders” chose to make such an unfounded and abhorrent analogy is of course deeply worrying. The fact that the BBC chose to uncritically amplify that statement twice in the space of three days is of no less concern.