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Start of Hanukkah draws goodwill greetings to Jewish people from world leaders

Trump says US-Israel relationship is ‘stronger than ever’; Turkey’s Erdogan wishes for well-being and happiness; UK’s Corbyn says Jews are ‘a model’ to all

US President Donald Trump receives a menorah from Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson, left, and his wife Miriam Adelson at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida, December 7, 2019. (AP/Patrick Semansky)
US President Donald Trump receives a menorah from Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson, left, and his wife Miriam Adelson at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida, December 7, 2019. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

As the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah began on Sunday night, world leaders sent messages of celebration, acceptance, and vows of support in the campaign against anti-Semitism.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement, “I sincerely congratulate our Jewish citizens’ Hanukkah.”

Erdogan, an ardent defender of the Palestinian cause and fierce critic of Israel said Turkey “regards differences as richness, and refuses to make a distinction between religion, language and race.”

“With these thoughts in mind, I extend my congratulations to the entire Jewish community on the occasion of Hanukkah and wish them well-being and happiness,” he said.

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn published a video on his Twitter account in which he wished a happy Hanukkah to the Jewish people in Britain and around the world.

Corbyn lost a December 12 national election to incumbent UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Labour’s campaign was dogged by accusations that Corbyn had not done enough to root out deep anti-Semitism in his party and was himself anti-Semitic.

“What inspires me most is that Jews have continued to light their candles for over 2,000 years,” Corbyn said. “The lights are a continuing symbol of hope, of light against the darkness.”

To mark the holiday, Jews light one candle on a menorah, or candelabra, each night. The traditional Hanukkah menorah includes nine branches, with one serving to kindle the others.

“They’ve been lit in the worst times,” Corbyn said and recalled periods throughout history when Jewish communities faced oppression.

The Jewish community, he said, is carrying “the flame of hope. Synagogues doing drop-in centers for refugees, housing the homeless and raising money for charities, are a model for all of us.”

Johnson also published a video in which he declared, “Britain would not be Britain without its Jewish community. And we will stand with you and celebrate with you — at Hanukkah and all year round.”

Johnson did not mention his reelection to office earlier this month, when he soundly defeated Corbyn, but did make combating anti-Semitism a central theme of his message.

Jews, he said, can “pop the hanukiah or menorah in the window” and say to the world, “I am Jewish and I am proud of it.”

“And that’s really important right now, because recent years have not been easy ones for British Jews. In the media, on the streets and particularly online, anti-Semites have, in alarming numbers, been emboldened to crawl our from under their rocks and begin, once again, to spread their brand of noxious hatred far and wide,” he said.

Johnson said that as the Jews strive to drive back anti-Semitism, “you have every decent person in this country fighting by your side.”

US President Donald Trump also wished the Jewish people a happy Hannukkah and took the opportunity to praise America’s relationship with the Jewish state, which he said has never been better.

“As the Jewish community gathers together to celebrate this special and sacred time of year, we are reminded of God’s message of hope, mercy, and love.

“Throughout the coming eight days, each candle to be lit on the menorah will signal to the world that freedom and justice will always shine brighter than hate and oppression,” he said in a statement.

“Today, the relationship between the United States and Israel, one of our most cherished allies and friends, is stronger than ever. We will continue to stand with the Jewish people in defending the God-given right to worship freely and openly.”

The White House held an official Hanukkah party on December 11, during which Trump signed an executive order targeting anti-Semitism on college campuses.

“This action makes clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the federal funding of universities and other institutions that engage in discrimination, applies to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate,” Trump said before signing the document.

The United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington tweeted a message to the Jewish community, as did the UAE embassy in the UK.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry tweeted Sunday an English-language video explaining the history of the holiday, its traditions and customs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman marked the first night of the holiday by lighting a menorah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

At a Sunday Likud party event for the holiday Netanyahu railed against the International Criminal Court for its Friday announcement that there was a “basis” for proceeding with an investigation into crimes allegedly committed by Israel in the Palestinian territories.

Drawing on the themes of Hannukah, which celebrates the victory of Jews in second century BCE Jerusalem over an occupying Greek army that had tried to suppress Judaism, Netanyahu said that the court “that should know otherwise, has set forth decrees that are just as anti-Semitic as the decrees of the Seleucid Greeks.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lights a menorah with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, December 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The holiday commemorates one of the great victories in Jewish history, when after defeating the Seleucids ruling the Holy Land, a small group of Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, reconsecrated the desecrated Temple of Jerusalem.

Tradition says that when they sought to relight the Temple’s menorah, only one day’s worth of undefiled oil remained. It miraculously burned for eight days, allowing time to prepare more oil.

AFP contributed to this report.

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