The decision to reject a Knesset member’s request to have a Christmas tree put up at the entrance to the parliament building was because of negative connotations the holiday symbol has for Jews, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said Thursday.
On Sunday, Edelstein announced that he had turned down a request from Hadash MK Hanna Swaid, an Arab Christian from the Galilee town of Eilaboun, to place a Christmas tree on prominent display, saying it was inappropriate.
On Thursday, Edelstein told Israel Radio the tree would dredge up bitter memories for Jews, and suggested there were other ways to send a seasonal greeting to Christians in Israel.
He also denounced Arab MKs for constantly testing the limits of the Jewish state. Edelstein said that if he had agreed to put up the tree, the next day there would have been a request to display a cross and a crescent alongside the symbolic menorah in the Knesset.
Swaid had asked that the tree be placed in a visible part of the Knesset, saying it would be “a gesture toward Christian members of Knesset and citizens of Israel, and a symbol of [Israel’s] ties to the Christian world generally.”
On Sunday, Edelstein’s office announced he had declined Swaid’s request.
“In response to your request that the Knesset erect at the House’s entrance a Christmas tree in honor of Christmas and the civil New Year, I respectfully reply that nothing prevents you from placing a tree in your office, or for your Knesset faction to place one in the faction room, but I do not believe it appropriate to order the erection of a Christmas tree as you requested,” Edelstein wrote.
Later that day, Swaid lamented that Edelstein’s response “didn’t even explain the decision,” and suggested the speaker had “faced pressure” from right-wing Jewish groups.
“I heard a Jewish Home MK say the Christmas tree symbolizes Christian persecution of Jews throughout all time. I think that’s foolishness, it’s crazy,” Swaid said.
“I’m very disappointed at this response,” Swaid told The Times of Israel Sunday. “I don’t need to ask permission to place a Christmas tree in my private room. The expectation was that the speaker would respond to the core of my request, to highlight the pluralism and multiculturalism of the Knesset as an institution that represents all parts of the population.”
Last week, Swaid noted that the Knesset sometimes recognizes non-Jewish religious events and symbols, including hosting an annual iftar meal, a ceremonial feast following the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
“How can a Christmas tree do harm to the State of Israel? I think this would have been a net gain,” he said.