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Belgian lawmaker takes heat for lighting menorah in Parliament

Despite presence of Christmas trees and a nativity scene, critics accuse Michael Freilich of violating separation of church and state

Lawmaker Michael Freilich lights Hanukkah candles in the Belgian Federal Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019. (Michael Freilich)
Lawmaker Michael Freilich lights Hanukkah candles in the Belgian Federal Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019. (Michael Freilich)

JTA — A video by the only Orthodox Jewish lawmaker in the Belgium Federal Parliament lighting candles there on Hanukkah near a nativity scene is provoking angry reactions, including from members of his own party.

Michael Freilich is seen walking through Parliament with a menorah as he passes multiple Christmas trees and other holiday symbols. Then he lights the menorah in a smaller room with a Christmas tree and nativity scene,which celebrates the birth of Jesus, in the background.

Two local politicians representing Freilich’s center-right N-VA party complained that his actions go against the separation of religion and state.

“Secularism is for everyone or for none at all,” one of the politicians, Pinar Akbas, wrote on Twitter. He also demanded “clarification,” De Morgen reported Friday.

Pieter Boudry, another party representative, also protested.

“No religious clothes and symbols for politicians and civil servants,” he wrote about the video.

Freilich told the media that he did not pray while lighting the candles in the video, meaning the action was an expression of his tradition and not an act of worship.

“If we allow Christmas trees and a nativity scene, the menorah is as similar a cultural Jewish heritage item and should not be banned,” Freilich told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

He said his party agrees with this reasoning despite the objections of some of its members

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