California scraps in-person Christmas tree lighting due to anti-Israel protesters

Gavin Newsom to hold online event instead of annual lighting at state capitol, with his office citing concern ‘for the safety and security of all participating members and guests’

A Christmas tree stands in front of the west steps of the California Capitol on December 6, 2023, in Sacramento, California. (AP Photo/Adam Beam)
A Christmas tree stands in front of the west steps of the California Capitol on December 6, 2023, in Sacramento, California. (AP Photo/Adam Beam)

SACRAMENTO, California — California Governor Gavin Newsom won’t host an in-person Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the state capitol this year because of concerns that anti-Israel protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza would disrupt the annual event.

Instead, the Democratic governor and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, will host the event in a pre-recorded ceremony that will be released Wednesday.

“As we continue to see protests across the country impacting the safety of events of all scales -– and for the safety and security of all participating members and guests including children and families -– the ceremony this year will be virtual,” the Governor’s Office said in a statement.

The tree lighting ceremony, which Newsom’s office said dates back to the 1930s, appears to have originally been scheduled for Tuesday, according to a permit posted online by the California Highway Patrol. Barriers went up around the tree this week in front of the west steps of the state capitol.

The Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights scheduled a “tree lighting protest” for the same day. Newsom has not called for Israel to halt its military actions against Hamas in Gaza, as the anti-Israel demonstrators demand. He traveled to Israel in October and met with some of the victims of the devastating Hamas attack, when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people and kidnapped around 240.

“Governor Newsom decided to cancel the tree lighting ceremony rather than face the public that is enraged by his shameful silence on the genocide in Gaza,” one of the group’s members, Yassar Dahbour, told The San Francisco Chronicle in a statement. “This certainly doesn’t add up with his past stance with Native Americans.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in Sacramento, California, on March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Protesters have targeted California Democrats since the war between Israel and Hamas started in October. Last month, the California Democratic Party canceled some events during its endorsement convention in Sacramento after protesters forced their way inside the convention hall.

The Christmas tree — a 60-foot (18-meter) red fir — was installed last month after being cut down from the LaTour Demonstration Forest in Shasta County, about a 45-mile (70-kilometer) drive from Redding. It is decorated with 10,000 LED lights and nearly 200 ornaments made by children and adults with developmental disabilities.

The ceremony will feature the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the Wilton Rancheria and representatives of the Department of Developmental Services’ regional centers. Harley Goodpasture, a 5-year-old member of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, will help light the tree. The Governor’s Office said Goodpasture represents “over 400,000 Californians with intellectual and developmental disabilities who receive services from the state’s nonprofit regional centers.”

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