AL Jazeera News by Jonathan Cook Sun., Eve., Dec.25, 2016
As tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims converge on the Holy Land this week to celebrate the birth of Jesus, senior Israeli rabbis have announced a war on the Christmas tree.
In Jerusalem, the rabbinate has issued a letter warning dozens of hotels in the city that it is “forbidden” by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage new year’s parties.
Many hotel owners have taken the warning to heart, fearful that the rabbis may carry out previous threats to damage their businesses by denying them certificates declaring their premises to be “kosher”.
In the coastal city of Haifa, in northern Israel, the rabbi of Israel’s premier technology university has taken a similarly strict line. Elad Dokow, the Technion’s rabbi, ordered that Jewish students boycott their students’ union, after it installed for the first time a modest Christmas tree.
He called the tree “idolatry”, warning that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status of the building, including its food hall.
While most of Israel’s Palestinian citizens are Muslim, there are some 130,000 Christians, most of them living in Galilee. More Palestinian Christians live under occupation in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed in violation of international law.
“One professor upset [Palestinian] students by taking to Facebook to say that the tree made him uncomfortable, and that those who wanted it should either put one up in their own home or go to Europe,” he told Al Jazeera.
Tensions with Israel overshadow Christmas in Palestine
Mahajni added: “This is not really about a Christmas tree. It is about who the tree represents. It is a test of whether Jewish society is willing to accept an Arab minority and our symbols.”
The controversial status of Christmas in Israel was underscored four years ago when Yair Netanyahu, the 21-year-old son of Israel’s prime minister, caused a minor scandal by being photographed wearing a Santa hat next to a Christmas tree.
The office of Benjamin Netanyahu hurriedly issued a statement saying that Yair had posed as a joke while attending a party hosted by “Christian Zionists who love Israel, and whose children served in the [Israeli army]”.
Hanna Swaid, a Palestinian Christian, pointed to the prominence of Jewish symbols in public spaces in the United States, including an annual Hanukkah party at the White House, during which the president lights menorah candles.
“Israeli leaders expect the US to be religiously inclusive, but then they refuse to practise the same at home,” he told Al Jazeera.
Pic Above — The Technion university’s rabbi has ordered that Jewish students boycott their student union after it installed a modest Christmas tree [Firas Espanioly/Al Jazeera]