The Knesset got its own Christmas tree this week in the office of Joint List leader Ayman Odeh. The only Christian member of Knesset is Odeh’s Joint List colleague, Aida Touma-Sliman, who did not put up a tree. Odeh is Muslim, but he said having a Christmas tree in the Knesset was important to him.
“Christmas is part of the culture of people born in this country,” Odeh said. “The Arab population is made up of Muslims, Druze and Christians, as is the Joint List faction and staff. It is natural for us to mark all the holidays of our constituents and celebrate with them.”
Odeh complained that Israel had extended its travel plan past Christmas, preventing Christians from entering the country for the holiday. He wrote the Interior Ministry, alleging discrimination because Jewish groups have been permitted to enter the country but Christian religious leaders were not given permission.
Likud MK Keti Shitrit said she had mixed feelings about there being a Christmas tree in the Knesset.“I think it is important to be sensitive to the public and prevent there being a Christmas tree in the parliament of the Jewish state, but I also respect that there are those with other traditions,” Shitrit said. There is a long history of battles over Christmas trees at the Knesset.
Eight years ago, then Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein rejected a request from then-MK Hanna Sweid to put up a Christmas tree in a public space in the Knesset because it would be offensive to Jews and remind them of bitter memories of persecution by Christians.
He also warned that it could lead to requests to display crosses and crescents along with the Knesset’s menorahs. But Edelstein said he had no problem with Sweid putting up a tree in his office or his faction room.