Demanding the Right to Put Christmas Tree on University Grounds

Haifa District Court 18870/04 Msaab Dukhan et. al. v. Haifa University

On 24 December 2004, the Haifa District Court rejected Adalah's request for an immediate injunction, filed on behalf of the Arab Students’ Committee, ordering Haifa University to permit the placement of a Christmas tree in the University's Main Building. The request for injunction was filed urgently in the hope that the tree would be erected in time for 25 December, Christmas Day. Judge Ron Socol ruled that although there exists a "suspicion" of unacceptable discrimination, since the University approved the placement of a Channukah lamp in the Main Building, the inequality in this case does not justify the Court's intervention in the University's decision.

Judge Socol decided further that, "Providing equal treatment to members of different religions does not obligate the provision of identical treatment. Every religion has different needs and catering to them does not necessitate using identical methods. […] Equal treatment in this matter means arranging a reasonable and accessible place for all those interested to see the religious symbol and perhaps to arrange an activity around it. In this regard, it is certainly necessary to consider the number of students that might be interested in visiting the religious symbol."

Responding to the decision, Adalah Attorney Gadeer Nicola stated that, "The Court's decision is highly problematic because it contradicts Supreme Court case law on the issue of equality. According to the District Court's decision, discrimination based on religion, nationality or ethnicity is permissible under some circumstances. Furthermore, this decision ignores the rights of the minority because it permits rights violations against a group that does not constitute a majority in the University."

On 22 December 2004, Adalah submitted a petition and motion for injunction to the Haifa District Court against Haifa University, on behalf of the Chairman of the Arab Students' Committee at Haifa University (ASC), Mosa'ab Dokhan, and other Arab students. They were submitted following Haifa University's refusal of the ASC's request to place a Christmas tree in the Main Building. The ASC has been seeking permission to do so for over three years. The University suggested that the ASC place a Christmas tree in the hall of the Multipurpose Building instead. Unlike the Main Building, the Multipurpose Building is far from the University's center and from students' activities. The ASC therefore rejected the University’s suggestion.

In its response to the motion for injunction, Haifa University claimed that, "It is neither right nor reasonable to dictate to the University authorities the location in which religious symbols should be placed when their decision in this matter is absolutely reasonable and practical." The University further claimed that their decision to place the Channukah lamp in the Main Building and not to place the Christmas tree there was justified because only 3% of the students are Christian, and the holy day they wished to celebrate is not a holy day for the other 97% of the University's student body. The University argued that this request was not similar to the one made by the Students' Association to place a Channukah lamp in the Main Building, as the Students' Association is a body which represents all students.

In a Court hearing held on 23 December 2004, the University's representative stated that, "The majority of Jewish students would not accept the placement of the Christmas tree in the Main Building with good will as it would constitute a Christian symbol in the most central place [of the University]."

Attorney Nicola argued before the Court that, "The University's decision results in discrimination between students regarding their right of access to religious symbols […] Haifa University accords different treatment to different people, despite the fact that the difference between them is not relevant. In this case, the difference between the percentage of Arab and Jewish students at the University is not relevant in the matter of attaining freedom of religious ritual and freedom of religion."

Adalah also asserted that the University's justification for its decision was absurd and could be used to justify every discriminatory action against a minority group. By this logic, for instance, it would be possible to discriminate against a certain group of women because their percentage in a certain institution was low. The University's decision infringed the Arab students' rights to freedom of expression, religion, religious ritual and equality, Adalah stated. Discriminating against one group of students in this manner also sends a negative message to University faculty, staff and students that an academic institution should not be making, Adalah contended.

Judge Socol also stated in his decision that it would be appropriate for the University to inform all students of the tree’s location so that everyone who is interested would be able to visit it. He added that the University should, "Ensure that the tree is placed in a respectable location, since it is an important symbol for the Christian community on their holy day."

Adalah and the Arab Students’ Committee maintain that the Main Building is the only suitable location for the Christmas tree and will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Request for Injunction No. 18870/04, Mosa'ab Dokhan, et. al. v. University of Haifa (decision delivered on 24/12/04).

Case No. 283/04, Mosa'ab Dokhan, et. al. v. University of Haifa (case pending).

 Decision (H)
 Motion for Injunction (H)