CAMERA’s Israel office last week prompted corrections at Newsweek and Agence France Presse, both of which repeated without challenge a false claim by Jerusalem church officials that a shelved Israeli bill
would have allowed for the expropriation of church land.
As noted last week on CAMERA’s Snapshots blog (“Newsweek: Fake Traffic, Fake News
“), Tom Porter incorrectly reported
on Feb. 25 that Christian leaders in Jerusalem issued a joint statement criticizing a “recent bill passed by the Israeli parliament that allowed the Israeli state to take over Christian buildings leased to private companies, and plans to begin imposing taxes on Christian church properties.”
First, the bill was not passed. In fact, on Feb. 25, the day of the Newsweek story, after church officials decided to close the holy site, the Israeli Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee postponed
a discussion of the bill.
Second, the bill would not allow “the Israeli state to take over Christian buildings leased to private companies.” It would enable Israel to expropriate church land sold to private developers since 2010. In other words, it would only apply to properties that no longer belong to the church. (See here for more information on the bill and the Jerusalem Municipality’s intention to start collecting tax on church-owned properties used for commercial purpose or other purposes excluding worship.)
Following communication with Newsweek, editors amended the text and added more information about the bill, which was shelved on Feb. 28. The article now accurately reports:
The statement criticized a proposed bill to be debated by the Israeli parliament that the church says would “make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible.” It also protested plans by local authorities in Jersulaem [sic] to begin imposing taxes on Christian church properties. …
After the protest move, an Israeli cabinet committee delayed by a week its scheduled consideration on Sunday of a bill that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private real estate firms in recent years.
The stated aim of the bill is to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases of land on which their houses or apartments stand.
MP Rachel Azaria said the aim of the bill is to get new landowners to the negotiating table. “I hope that the buyers will come around and that we will succeed in arriving at a solution through negotiation and agreement. If that doesn’t happen, the law will transfer the rights to the land to the State of Israel.”
The churches are major property owners in the city. They say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for church-owned land—sales that help to cover operating costs of their religious institutions.
Jerusalem’s mayor on Tuesday suspended the tax plan on Christian church properties that was partly responsible for prompting the closure.
In addition, editors commendably appended the following correction to the bottom of the article, alerting readers to the change:
In addition, on Feb. 28, Agence France Presse (“Church at Jesus’s traditional burial site reopens after protest,” 3:34 a.m. GMT”) had similarly stated: “A proposed law that Christian leaders say would allow Israel to expropriate church land is also to be shelved.”
Regardless of what Christian leaders may have said, the bill would not have allowed for the expropriated of church-owned land. As the article itself correctly explains several paragraphs later (and not all readers bother to read that far down):
A separate controversial bill seeks to allay fears of Israelis who live in homes on lands previously held by the Greek Orthodox Church and which were sold to private developers, according to the lawmaker proposing the legislation.
The bill would allow certain lands sold by the Greek Orthodox Church to be handed over to the state, which would then compensate those who bought it from the church.
In response to communication from CAMERA, AFP editors commendably updated the article, amending the language. The updated language (11:11 a.m. GMT) accurately reported: “A proposed law that would allow Israel to expropriate land sold by the church is also to be shelved.”
In addition, CAMERA’s UK Media Watch prompted correction of this identical error at The Telegraph and The Guardian. While AFP, Newsweek, The Telegraph and The Guardian have all corrected, Haaretz has yet to do so.
For additional AFP corrections prompted by CAMERA, please see here. For more Newsweek corrections prompted by CAMERA, please see here.