Monk with Christmas tree
Monk with Christmas treeIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud Beytenu) has rejected a request to put up a Christmas tree at the entrance to Knesset.

MK Hana Sweid (Hadash), who was born to a Christian Arab family, submitted a request for an official Knesset Christmas tree last week. Sweid argued that putting a tree up in a highly visible place in Knesset would show consideration for Christian citizens of Israel and would highlight Israel’s ties to the Christian world.

Edelstein told Sweid that individual MKs or parties may put up a tree if they choose to do so, but tha the Knesset will not host a central Christmas display. “There is nothing preventing you from putting a tree in your office, or your party could put a tree in the room belonging to its Knesset faction. But I do not believe it would be fitting to order a tree put up as per your request,” he informed the MK in a letter.

In his request last week Sweid said that putting up a tree would send a message of opposition to “price tag” vandalism targeting Christian sites.

Sweid had also argued that a tree could have meaning to Israel Jews as well. Many Israel Jews born overseas put up a tree during the holidays in their countries of origin, he said.

He was apparently referring to the Russian custom of putting up a New Year’s tree. The tree is similar to the traditional Christmas tree put up in many Western countries in appearance, but is not linked to the Christian holiday.

Last year the city of Jerusalem caused upset when it placed a Christmas tree at the Jaffa Gate plaza, just outside the Old City. The hareidi-religious Shas party held a prayer rally to oppose the move.

Jerusalem and the JNF regularly distribute free Christmas trees in December. The city will distribute trees this year as well, despite the damage to Israel’s Christmas tree crop in a recent snow storm.

Israel is also seeking to improve the holidays for Christians by easing security restrictions on PA-controlled territory in Judea and Samaria, allowing Palestinian Arab Christians to visit family and Christian holy sites in Israel during the holidays.