The phony ‘War on Christmas’ has been one of the most ridiculous frenzies that grip right-wing Christians and politicians and media each year around this time. Donald Trump predictably pandered to this sentiment by ridiculously promising that when he is president people will say “Merry Christmas” again. But what are they going to do about this attack on Christmas by rabbis in Israel who are concerned by the rise in popularity of Christmas as a secular holiday in that country?
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.
Of course, these intolerant religious people deny that they are intolerant.
“This is not about freedom of worship,” Dokow told the Technion’s students. “This is the world’s only Jewish state. And it has a role to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and not to uncritically embrace every idea.”
The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, has also been declared a Christmas tree-free zone.
In 2013, its speaker rejected a request from Hanna Swaid, then a Palestinian Christian legislator, to erect a tree in the building. Yuli Edelstein said it would evoke “painful memories” of Jewish persecution in Europe and chip away at the state’s Jewish character.
Swaid 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.
There is nothing like religion to bring people together in peace and harmony, no?
Swaid is being naïve when he expects religious people to consistently apply principles. Religion is always about special pleading, trying to get special benefits for themselves when they are the majority and calling for tolerance and inclusion and equal treatment when they are the minority.