Christian MK calls for Knesset Christmas tree

Israeli parliament considering request from lawmaker Hanna Swaid, who also wants House closed for Christian holidays

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

The Knesset, blanketed in snow, Thursday, December 12, 2013 (photo credit: Knesset spokesperson)
The Knesset, blanketed in snow, Thursday, December 12, 2013 (photo credit: Knesset spokesperson)

A Christian member of Knesset called on Thursday for the Israeli parliament to host a Christmas tree that would honor Israel’s “multiculturalism” and its Christian minority. A Knesset spokesperson said the request was under consideration.

MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash), who hails from the Galilee town of Eilaboun, sent a letter Thursday to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) urging him to order the placing of the Christmas tree “at the entrance [to the Knesset], or another visible place, as you see fit.”

The placement of the tree 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.”

Many Jewish citizens of Israel, Swaid noted, “are used to seeing Christmas trees during the holiday period in their countries of birth.”

The call was not a political statement, Swaid told The Times of Israel.

“One might argue that in Israel everything is political, that this has political ramifications, but I’m not aiming for that. We’re not talking about a national symbol. The Christmas tree is a religious and cultural symbol from China to Alaska,” he said.

It was also common in many countries to see expressions of minorities’ cultures in the national parliaments, he added. “I know that the United States Congress doesn’t work on Yom Kippur as an expression of respect for the culture” of the country’s Jewish minority, he said.

Hadash MK Hana Sweid, February 3 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Hadash MK Hanna Swaid, February 3 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

“I say the Knesset also has to express multiculturalism in the sense that in the Knesset there are MKs from different cultures, not just Jews but Christians, Muslims, Druze and others. The Knesset represents all the subgroups, cultures and strata of [Israeli society],” he said.

It is also an opportunity to see if Israeli lawmakers stand by some of their rhetoric, he added. “I hear a lot of right-wing voices talking about the importance of the Christian minority, and the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. I want to test this sentiment.”

Swaid also plans to propose a bill closing the Knesset plenum and committees during the Christian holidays of Christmas, New Year and Easter.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Knesset speaker said the letter had been received Thursday and the matter was “being looked into.”

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