Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) turned down on Sunday a request from a Christian Knesset member to place a Christmas tree on prominent display in the parliament’s building.
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash), an Arab Christian from the Galilee town of Eilaboun, had sent a letter to the speaker Thursday urging him to order the placing of the Christmas tree “at the entrance [to the Knesset], or in another visible place, as you see fit.”
The placement of the tree, he said, 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.
“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.”
He lamented that Edelstein’s response “didn’t even explain the decision,” and suggested the speaker “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.
“You can’t claim that a Christmas tree is against the State of Israel. Is Israel Jewish in the religious sense? Are we the Jewish Iran? If it’s opposition to a Christmas tree as a national symbol, [Edelstein should know] the Christmas tree is a symbol around the world of happiness, of what they call in America the ‘holiday season.'”
On Thursday, Swaid noted in a conversation with The Times of Israel 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.
A request for further comment was turned down by a spokesperson for Edelstein.