Faith

Muslim Mayor of Nazareth Backtracks After Canceling Christmas Over Trump Jerusalem Announcement

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, after lighting the 2017 National Christmas Tree near the White House. Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Last week, the Muslim mayor of the city of Nazareth — the place where Jesus Christ grew up — announced the city would cancel all public events celebrating Jesus’ birth, Christmas. He framed the move as a response to President Donald Trump’s statement acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On Saturday, he backtracked, blasting reports of Christmas cancellation as “incorrect.”

“Our identity and faith aren’t up for debate,” Ali Salam, the Muslim mayor of Nazareth, said on Thursday. “The decision [by Trump to recognize Jerusalem] has taken away the joy of the holiday, and we will thus cancel the festivities this year.”

The city council announced Thursday that Salam had ordered the cancellation of all artistic events, including a festival and a large Christmas market, The Times of Israel reported. Israel’s Channel 10 reported the same, along with the same remarks from Salam. Israel’s I-24 News also reported this move.

Britain’s The Independent reported a similar statement from a Nazareth spokesman. “We have decided to cancel the traditional Christmas singing and dancing because we are in a time of dispute, because of what Trump has said about Jerusalem,” spokesman Salem Sharara said.

Sharara said the town’s market and the traditional Christmas church services will be held as every year.

Salam backtracked on the cancellation, telling Reuters on Saturday that these earlier reports were fake news.

“I don’t know why people thought that there would be cuts to the celebrations,” Salam told Reuters. “Everything, except for three singers who will not be coming, will be held as normal. We have already welcomed 60,000 people to the city today.”

The mayor did acknowledge that three singers who were scheduled to perform would not appear, and he gave no reason for their absence.

“Reports that Christmas events were canceled this year are incorrect,” Salam told The Times of Israel. “Just as every year, the city is decorated for the holiday and we are excited to receive the tens of thousands of visitors who will arrive, and to give them a festive and special experience.”

Salam said travelers from all faiths were welcome in Nazareth. “[I] invite all the residents of the State of Israel — the Jews, Muslims and Christians — to come to the city of Nazareth and take part in the Christmas celebrations,” he said. “Nazareth is the city of peace and brotherhood between religions and nations, and there is nothing like the spirit of the holiday and the shared experience to prove it.”

He did not mention Trump’s Jerusalem announcement in these later remarks.

In addition to being the hometown of Jesus in the New Testament, Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel, with a population of 76,000 Muslims and Christians. The imposing Basilica of the Annunciation is built on a site that many Christians believe was the childhood home of Jesus’ mother, Mary. The Annunciation refers to the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would become pregnant with Jesus, despite being a virgin.

Within an hour of Trump’s announcement, two Palestinian towns shut down their Christmas lights in protest. Notably, the town of Bethlehem, recorded in the gospels as Jesus’ birthplace, participated in this protest. Bethlehem did not announce whether it was considering a cutback on Christmas celebrations.

The Christmas season is a vital tourist time for both Nazareth and Bethlehem, which made the early Nazareth announcement and the Bethlehem symbolic protest particularly fascinating. If these tourist centers were willing to risk their economic survival to protest Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, they must have been very angry about it indeed.

Trump’s announcement was met with outrage among Palestinians, the U.S. media, and European diplomats. The terrorist organization Hamas has called for an uprising — an intifada — against the move. On Saturday, a Hamas leader declared that the organization will stop Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem by force, moving toward the city with an army, willing to lose “millions of martyrs” in the process.

Many Muslims across the world celebrate Christmas, as they consider Jesus Christ to have been a prophet — but not the Messiah or the Son of God. Muslims deny the Resurrection, claiming that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but merely seemed to do so.

(This account appears to overlook the “blood and water” flowing from Jesus’ side, as the Bible’s story fits with medical science on asphyxiation. A Roman crucifixion brought death by suffocation, and when someone dies of suffocation, the sac around the heart called the “pericardium” fills with a fluid that would look like water.)

Anti-Trump activist Holly O’Reilly claimed that Trump “killed Christmas in the place where Jesus grew up.”

Jerusalem Post analyst Lahav Harkov disagreed, saying, “Trump didn’t steal anything. The Mayor of Nazareth did, and in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Authority did. There’s no justification for denying people their religious festival because you disagree with a different person on the other side of the world.”

“Christians are suffering because of extremist Muslims and Arab leaders who decide what they can do and can’t do,” Israeli Christian Jonathan Elkhoury said in a YouTube video. He also noted that when Bethlehem came under the Palestinian Authority in 1995, the number of Christians dropped from 60 percent to 20 percent.

While Salam did reverse the cancellation of Christmas events, his attack on previous reports as if they were “fake news” is particularly troublesome. Rather than just admitting he was wrong to announce cancellations, or attacking the Nazareth spokesman for suggesting events would be curtailed, he merely dismissed the media reports as “false.”

It seems the mayor of Nazareth wanted not just to reverse his decision, but to throw his own statement down the “memory hole,” never to be remembered.