The Jaffa building that is slated to become the national headquarters of the Church of Scientology was set on fire yesterday, and police said they suspect arson.
The building is unoccupied, but nine construction workers renovating the site were initially trapped by the flames on the main staircase.
Initially, fire officials attributed the blaze to an electrical short circuit, but once the identity of the owners became clear, investigators began to suspect arson.
Arab and Jewish residents of Jaffa have mounted protests in the hope of denying the Scientologists a foothold in the city and launched a petition on Facebook calling on the authorities to keep the organization away.
“We still do not know for certain whether this was a case of arson,” said Seffi Fischler, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology’s Israel branch.
In the 1980s, the state officially declared Scientology a cult and ordered public schools not to teach it.
“We are often portrayed in a distorted way by the media,” said Fischler. “Scientology is recognized as a religion in 27 countries. In Israel we have yet to begin this process so that we can receive formal recognition as a religion.”
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