Ho, Ho, Ho? Nope! Israeli Rabbis issue “edicts” against Christmas trees


At Technion University in Israel, the university’s rabbi has forbidden students to enter the student union building due to the presence of the Christmas tree. Dr. Yousef Jabareen, M.K, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was in Canada last October says this is one example of Israel’s religious intolerance. Read more…

After a visit to Ottawa in October examining how Canada treats its minorities, Dr. Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), wrote an op ed in the Toronto Star outlining for Canadians some of the ways in which the non-Jewish citizens of Israel suffer discrimination.

He did not mention religious discrimination. But a short note from him this week highlighted another example of the intolerance of the Jewish State toward its non-Jewish citizens. Last week the Rabbi of Technion University in Haifa, forbade Jewish students from entering a building with a Christmas tree, calling the tree a “pagan symbol, even worse than a Christian symbol”, according to Aarutz Sheva, a right wing Israeli news source.


Dear Peter,

Christmas Greetings from Jerusalem!!

I am writing to you asking Canadians to help defend freedom of expression and freedom of religion here in Israel at Christmas time.

Rabbi Dokob, the official rabbi of the Technion University in Haifa has objected to the erection of a Christmas tree on campus and called for students not to enter the compound and not to purchase food at its restaurants because the Christmas tree is an “anti-Jewish symbol”.

When asked whether his statement abridges the right of Freedom of Speech and Religion, Rabbi Dokob responded “this is the only Jewish state in the world” and added “the role of academic campus is to be a light for the gentiles and cannot support any unsupervised idea”.

Such statements severely prejudice Arab students at the Technion, and the entire Arab society in Israel.

I have appealed to the President of the Technion and demanded he immediately fire Rabbi Dokob and condemn his racist remarks.

I would like to invite Canadians who support freedom of religion, and particularly Canadian Christians, to defend the right to have a Christmas tree on the campus of Technion University in Haifa.

Dr. Yousef Jabareen, MK.

A statement from the Technion in response to complaints, noted that although Rabbi Dokow is an official of the university, his views were written on his personal Facebook page and do not reflect the inclusive views of the university.

“The Student Union of course recognizes all of the Jewish holidays, but at the same time acknowledges students of other religions, their right to express themselves out of respect, friendship and tolerance,” a university spokesperson said.

The incident at Technion is part of a broader trend in Israel.

The Jerusalem rabbinate has called on hotels in the city not to erect Christmas trees or host New Year’s Eve parties, according to a letter that emerged Tuesday in the Times of Israel. The letter was addressed to hotel managers and signed by the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem.

Perhaps encouraging Israel to embrace the same religious freedoms we enjoy in Canada, might be a good objective for our new Canadian ambassador.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We invite original submissions that promote a serious conversation on this serious topic. To submit an article, make a donation or learn more about what we do, contact us at: membership.ctip@gmail.com.


  1. the facts are that the students union erected a Christmas tree and that the students union Novigod party (Russian new year) have a much higher attendance than the Hanouka party.
    A rabbi can ask (over his facebook page)who ever wants to listen to him not to join these celebrations. It doesn’t make Israel less tolerant.
    Seriously, is that the best Israel bashing you could come up with?

    1. Hey Ike, Thanks for raising the issue.
      If the chaplain of the University of Ottawa were to tell students not to eat in the student cafeteria because someone had put up a Menorah there over Chanaka, I think you would be upset. I know I would be.
      If he had said things like the Technion rabbi had said, he might even get charged with a hate crime.

      1. If something like that would happen in Canada I will focus my words at the chaplain. I wouldn’t use that event to bash Canada.

        The technion is a university that can springboard a Christian Arab to Apple’s board of directors (johny srouji) can you say the same about any other university in the Middle East ?

  2. And the title you choose is a plain lie. The university didn’t ask for the Christmas tree to be removed

    1. @ Ike The report is clear: “ISRAELI RABBIS ISSUE “EDICTS” AGAINST CHRISTMAS TREES”. Every person who respects freedom of speech should and expected condemn this clearly. I do not understand why you are trying to change the subject.

  3. I personally disagree with intolerant views expressed by these rabbis, in both of the cases cited in the article. That said, the case in Jerusalem reflects a diminution of the rabbis’ power. The letter they sent to the hotels is an expression of their own views. They have no legal power to enforce it.

    In the past rabbis used their authority over kashrut to bully businesses into following policies that enforced other Jewish practices, and sometimes their own personal peferences. For example, restaurants would be denied certification that their food is kosher if they opened on the sabbath.

    The Israeli courts have now ruled that this is an abuse of the rabbinic oversight power intended to maintain kashrut. Thus the letter sent to the hotels is now unenforceable and represents an appeal to the owners of these businesses who are free to do what they judge to be in the best interest of their businesses.

    I agree that as the leaders of the predominant religion of the country, Israeli rabbis have a duty to be circumspect in expressing their views, lest secular people and the members of religious minorities feel that their freedom of religion might be compromised. I am personally in favour of celebrating Christmas publicly in Israel, to show respect to the Christian minority, as well as due to the unique importance of the country in the history of Christianity.

    I am in Jerusalem at present and will keep an eye open for Christmas decorations.

  4. I have a question Peter. Italy, Spain, Greece and Switzerland are Christian nations, much the same way that Israel is a Jewish nation. How come you never attack them? What is it that you have against the Jewish state?

    1. Hey Ike, I will assume you ask your question in good faith, and not just as an argument.

      “State” and “nation” are not the same thing. Canada is a Christian nation (I leave out the Quebec issue for this point), Surveys show that most Canadians say they are Christian. But it is not a Christian STATE. In principle Christians and non-Christians are equal. (I know of course there are still some areas in which this is not completely true – Christmas is an official holiday, etc, ) and Christians do not get rights that others don’t get. To the extent that there are advantages for Christians (e.g. subsidies for Catholic schools), I oppose them.

      I hope that Jews and Christians are all equal in Italy, Spain, Greece and Switzerland, notwithstanding the fact that they are Christian countries.

      israel is a Jewish STATE. This is very different. Jews have a privileged position in Israel. There are many many laws, allowances, subsidies, etc. that go to Jews, but not to its non-Jewish citizens. Surely you know this already. Israel is a lot more similar to Saudi Arabia or other officially Islamic countries than it is to any of the countries you reference.

  5. Ike, those countries have adopted secular separation-of-church-and-state laws and have stopped self-identifying as “Christian states” in the same sense that Israel is currently and increasingly emphasizing that it is a “Jewish state.” For me that is a big difference. Once you identify your state as belonging to one religion, it is hard for it to NOT be discriminatory toward religious minorities and to remain democratic in the full sense. Islamic State is on the extreme end of that trajectory, and it’s disheartening to see tilts in that direction around the world, whether it’s Christian intolerance in the US, Hindu fundamentalism in India, or even hard right Jewish nationalism in Israel. So people who love democracy should be criticizing such extremism wherever it exists, beginning in their own backyards. To do so is not to “attack” the countries where it exists. In fact, expressing concern about dangers can be construed as an act of love. I’d like to think that that is really what’s behind Jabareen’s plea as a citizen of Israel.

    1. @brempelburkholder

      I think you may want to define what you mean by democracy.

      If you mean something like: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections Then the identification of the state with the religion of the state are often expressions of democracy.

      In the case of the United States Christian Fundamentalism it emerged as a reaction against urban dominance of American politics. For example in the 2012 election Romney won 2,420 to Obama’s 693. Trump did slightly better winning 2623 to Clinton’s 489 (https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/XOhwW48KRAkxHx8zvh6XjE2LfcqXveTY1nfNTOhSJVSHwHruQBe2PeVDh5L4W03Ci74dt5SS7OwOK0bWnFOgzBOMMSAmvxmwuGaI-vQMxes3_fnR_hsVTuIrxKAp9RWXm5biDX4j). However the Clinton Counties represent 64% of America’s total economic output, a far higher share (likely over 90%) of its cultural output. The revolt against the urban elite is democratic in most senses. Similarly in India, Modi’s support was a revolt against an intrenched Indian ruling class that put the interests of the bureaucracy above the interests of the Indian people in particular the demand for high levels of foreign investment to create rapid economic growth. Since this is an Israeli board its worth mentioning that the growing power of Israel’s state church is directly tied to a revolt against the old Ashkenazi’s elites hold on economic and political power. Israel is getting more religious as it is getting more democratic.

      Now there is a competing definition Form of government, where a constitution guarantees basic personal and political rights, fair and free elections, and independent courts of law.

      Which is probably IMHO described as liberal democracy not just democracy. You’ll notice that the people’s power is quite constrained in this liberal democracy definition. This definition is most strongly entrenched in America’s political and social system which is why I don’t think religious fundamentalism presents much threat to America almost regardless of how strong it grows.

      Anyway in Israel’s case it has always had a state church. Israel has no intention of not having a state church. It has no desire to be a secular democracy like western Europe. This isn’t shocking virtually none of the Israeli population came from Western Europe. The model that does have support is something like the Eastern Rite Catholic Church where the church is an agency of the state. Any moves towards secular democracy would at this point and time have to be imposed in a non-democratic manner.

      What is popular with majorities are:

      a) Stripping the most conservative Rabbis of their power over conversions (which would incidentally likely increase the degree to which the Jewish state religion exercises control over the social sphere)

      b) Strong protections and even state subsidy and support for secondary churches, official tolerance.

      If you want to cut with the grain and not against it in Israel and are concerned about religious liberty (a) and (b) are a far better path than pushing for religious liberty. As an aside I was in Israel for Christmas last year and there were quite open celebrations in the Christian community which had state support.

  6. @David

    comments are closed on the https://canadatalksisraelpalestine.ca/2016/12/10/what-i-learned-in-canada-palestinian-knesset-member-yousuf-jabareen/ thread so moving here

    Since you agree with me that the UN and League of Nations did not have the right to give land to anyone, stop referring to the UN decisions as legitimizing the creation of the Israel that exists now

    That refutation applies to people who make claims that settlements are “illegal” or other such claims based on international law. If the UN can declare the settlers illegal than they can partition Palestine. If you don’t believe in the one you don’t believe in the other.

    The UN can help parties to negotiate agreements; it cannot impose them..

    That’s actually what the League’s partition proposal was an attempt to help the parties negotiate an agreement. The UN’s was more trying to stop the Palestinians from running themselves into what was by that point a superior force. It was also an attempt to prevent the war from spreading. They failed on both accounts but did manage to broker an armistice which was semi successful.

    Some Jews refer to themselves as an ancient people, but Rabbis have been have long been converting people to Judaism and have detailed procedures for doing that. Ivanka Trump seems to be recognized as a Jew in spite of the fact that she is not known to have any Jewish ancestors.

    So what? The French people accept new members, as do the Russians the Brazilians the American and the Canadians. That Judaism accepts converts is not controversial. The book of Ruth outlines a conversion. Tribes can accept new members as can nations. A belief in self determination opposes the pure racism of anti-colonialism it doesn’t support it.

    It is inconsistent to claim that Palestinians are not a people because they never had an official state and then use different rules for Jews.

    The Jews had an official state. See the December 22, 2016 at 2:47 am post.

    The borders in Europe were drawn by agreements between rulers and had little to do with who lived where.

    Not at all. The fact that they could rule and hold the territory disproves that. To be able to hold a territory national meant they had the support of the local leadership and thus often the population. In cases where the people weren’t loyal the rulers had to constantly use force and the territories often didn’t remain under their control. The history of Belgium and the Netherlands inability to hold it being a classic example.

    If you read the literature of the time, you can see that the concepts of citizenship, ethnicity and nationality were distinct.

    It depends what time you mean. The nation state emerged as a response to the 30 years war and then later World War I. As states had greater need of a loyal population they became less despotic and greater consent from the governed. To do that they needed people who saw themselves as sharing common interests. In times of peace states can and often do become more aligned with the interests of transnational aristocrats and less dependent on fulfilling their population’s desires. Something the world has been experiencing since the fall of the Soviet Union. That of course creates opportunities (though often the process takes centuries) for national or local revolts which create powerful small states able to challenge larger but less unified states for territories, resources and peoples and the pendulum swings back.

    . I am not basing what I believe on the slogans of politicians. Politicians tend to take extreme positions to get attention and get elected. (You Americans should now know that.)

    If extreme positions get a politician elected then those positions are popular. Moreover we do have polling of the Palestinians. Their positions are generally more aggressive then those of their leadership not less. The situation of course in Israel is creating more extremism and one can certainly argue that politicians on both sides could take actions to change popular opinion. But I don’t see any evidence that political extremism is not a genuine reflection of the popular will on both sides.

    I certainly have experienced Palestinians who individually are willing for a peace on quite reasonable terms. The problem often is that those terms differ too much between Palestinians and conflict with one another. Since the Palestinians put a high value on unity they resolve this by demanding an “all of the above” type solution. Which then of course is completely unacceptable to the Israelis. The unwillingness to renounce right of return, while demanding a removal of the settlements during the 2 state negotiations being a perfect case in point.

    Equality would allow them to have both.

    Neither of us owns a crystal ball but I suspect equality in the sense you mean it would allow them to have neither. A government to function has to have some degree of consent of the governed. Voting can help to achieve that, but in and of itself it doesn’t create it. There are always competing forces that can and do become more powerful as people hate their government and its policies. The government of Israel based on pure equality under current conditions would not be able to control civil society and would be undermined from within. Quasi government forces tied to the respective nation would arise and would tear the government apart.

    Egypt is probably a good example of what a likely outcome of democracy in your sense would look like. The Egyptians got a democracy which held a narrow majority of the rural poor. Those group of people saw little reason to compromise with the other factions. So the Leftists, Nasrists, Socialists, Communists, Christians, Liberals and Copts formed an alliance and overthrew the democracy agreeing to rule by force against the rural poor. Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are also recent good examples of likely outcomes. The British tried unity between Jews and Palestinians in the 1920s and early 1930s it failed miserably.

    If one state blockades another, that is an act of war. However, Israel does not recognize Gaza as a state

    If it is warring against a state it is recognizing it as a state. They don’t have diplomatic relations but that’s another question.

    That is no more a war than the Nazi treatment of Jews was a war.

    I don’t remember the Nazis being willing to accept a surrender.

    Palestinians (not just Gazans) voted for Hamas because they felt that Fatah and the PLA were corrupt and were not helping them. They saw Hamas as more honest and recognized that it had charitable arms that did help people. Voting for Hamas was not a vote for a war with Israel.

    I agree Hamas is vastly less corrupt than Fatah. But when you vote for a party you vote for their entire platform. It may be fair to say the Gazans didn’t directly support war but there can be no question they understood at the time and understood now that Hamas supports war and supporting Hamas means supporting war. War has been the defining characteristic of Hamas’ rein. If the Gazans broadly supported peace there would be a peace party.

    If the Gazans, or all Palestinians, did ask for terms of surrender, they would not achieve equality, freedom, or wealth

    They would likely gain substantially more of all 3. The situation in both Gaza and the West Bank in the 1970s demonstrates that Israel is willing to be far less cruel in their administration than they are when the face heavy opposition.

    I’ll take Assad as an analogy. In 2000 I had lots of Syrian friends who argued that Syrians under Assad had more freedom in practice than American do in the United States. No one would argue the same today (understanding it is a different Assad but the same/similar administration). The Alawite government is clearly willing to utilize incredible brut force to support the Alawite people. But if such force is not needed they were willing to quite liberal regime so much so that many non Alawite Syrians were quite happy with their government and didn’t see the violence of the regime. A process of gradual reform would have been likely acceptable to the Alawite nation, a demand for an immediate majoritarian democracy and/or Sunni Islamic dictatorship was not. The brutality of the Assad regime currently is situational not intrinsic.

    Similarly the brutality of the Israeli regime towards Gaza is situational not intrinsic.

    Turning this into a historical discussion is pointless. History is like the tides that ebb and flow. If we go far enough back, all of us could claim the right of return to Africa and everyone could site some injustice that justified what they want to do.

    Exactly. But unfortunitly in the next line you lose the point.

    Israel is presently denying the rights of people who were living in Palestine before the “return” of the Jews.

    And Spain is denying the rights of the people who were living in Spain prior to its unification (or Hispania’s reunification).

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