Update on Seattle Airport Christmas Trees

seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/295428_trees11.html (external - login to view)

Monday, December 11, 2006
Christmas trees come down at Sea-Tac, controversy rises
Some want airport decorations put back up
By AMY ROLPH (external - login to view)

Christmas still might have a chance at Sea-Tac Airport.

Amid the growing controversy over the Port of Seattle's decision to remove Christmas trees from the airport, many agree on one thing: Packing away the trees could have been an overreaction.
The port's staff took down the trees Thursday after commissioners learned a lawsuit could be filed the next day if they didn't allow an 8-foot menorah to be displayed beside the largest of 15 Christmas trees throughout the airport.
"In hindsight, we probably should have handled this in a more deliberate and thoughtful manner, but at the time we were given a very short timeline," Commissioner John Creighton said Sunday evening.
The five port commissioners will meet Tuesday evening, and though they have a crowded agenda, Creighton said he wouldn't be surprised if the issue is revisited.
"I can think of at least three out of five commissioners who would like to see the trees back up," he said, adding that how the commissioners deal with being more inclusive at the meeting remains to be seen.

Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of Chabad Lubavitch organization in the University District threatened a lawsuit after his request for a menorah display at the airport didn't move forward as quickly as he anticipated.
Bogomilsky said his organization wants to diversify the airport's display, but removing the trees was not its intention.
Chabad Lubavitch provided menorahs for public display in more than 20 locations statewide, including at the Seattle Center.
The organization's request is usually met with enthusiasm, Bogomilsky said.
"This whole thing is just beyond me -- I'm so appalled and disappointed," he said. "By no means did we want to remove these (trees)."
A representative from Chabad Lubavitch started talking with airport officials in October, and a lawyer informed them of a possible lawsuit at least a week ago, Bogomilsky said.
But airport officials said the threat of litigation was much more sudden.
"It was either, 'put up the menorah,' or they would go to federal court and sue us 18 hours later," Port of Seattle Commission President Pat Davis said. "They wouldn't wait."
No matter what happens, Chabad Lubavitch has no intention of filing a lawsuit anymore, Bogomilsky said.

Commissioner Bob Edwards said he hopes that after Tuesday's meeting, the trees will go back up along with decorations that represent other holiday celebrations.
"It's an international gateway -- why not celebrate other cultures?" he asked.
If the trees do stay down, maybe airport officials will consider a different kind of decoration, Edwards joked.
"Imagine if we had a blow-up of the Grinch to greet travelers," he said.
"The airport that stole Christmas."

More headlines and info from SeaTac (external - login to view).
P-I reporter Kristen Bolt contributed to this report. P-I reporter Amy Rolph can be reached at 206-448-8223 or amyrolph@seattlepi.com (external - login to view).
The rabbi's behaviour has been shameful. Anti-semitism is sweeping much of North America now and it is exactly incidents like this that propel it. Jews cannot be seen to be elitist. This is a trait often cited by their detractors. I hope the trees go back up soon. This is Christmas, a cultural icon of the western world.
This is so stupid. Xmas trees aren't religious symbols anyways, so I don't see what his problem was. For a lot of us this is a non-religious holiday. I mean, Jesus wasn't crucified on a pine tree with lights and tinsel was he?
When I first heard of the removal of the Xmas trees at the Seattle -Tacoma airport, I was quite saddened. I say this as a citizen of our great country Canada, and as an observant Jew. I was particularly dismayed to hear that this was done at the request of a Rabbi of Chabad. Judging from the posts above, it would seem that the message we have received is that the Rabbi instigated the removal of the trees. While I personally would not support the use of, or even the mention of a lawsuit by the Rabbi to the airport authority in the issue of installing a menorah at the airport, and I do agree that antisemitism is on the rise for perceptions of elitism on the part of Jews by many, we do need to read the whole story.
It would seem that the tree removal was done not at the request of the Rabbi, but as an action by the airport authority. Indeed the Rabbi is on record as having beed saddened by the incident, and did not want the trees removed. Of course those trees are a symbol of the prevailing culture in which we live, and as such everyone who enjoys and celebrates Xmas should be allowed to do so in public.
The important distinction needs to be made however, that the Rabbi did not have a problem with the trees, only with the lack of a menorah at the airport. As a commisioner at the airport authority I wonder what I would have done in the midst of a very busy season, with many issues such as security to worry about with regard to the mention of a lawsuit. I might too have thought that the most expedient solution would be to remove the trees and worry about the issue later in our politically correct world.
The message I heard however, and that many of us have heard is that the Rabbi wanted the trees removed. This is because of the way media presents many issues, and unless we as individuals do few moments of follow-up on what we hear or read (who has time for that?), we will assume that, for instance, the Rabbi doesn't like trees, or other religions, etc. As far as I can tell, he wanted to have a Jewish symbol of light placed next to the trees. Whether that's appropriate is another issue we could debate, but the Rabbi didn't want the trees removed. Why he felt that the mention of a lawsuit was a good idea I'm not sure. Let's be clear though that he didn't seem, in subsequent reportage to have any animosity toward the trees, or Xmas. The distinction may be small, but one way of our looking at things does breed antsemitism, and the other breeds inquiry.

All the best of the season.

I also heard a report that the Rabbi initially phoned in with a request that Menorah's be placed around in observance of Hannuka in addition to the trees....

However, his final words were he would have to take it to the port authority and threatened legal action...

His message is as conflicted as those reporting it.

The port authority people took down the trees, not the individual airline companies who immediately put up small trees at their counters.... none of the 'vendors' were in on the tree removal....

The port authority did a knee jerk thinking they were in for a lawsuit - as the Rabbi threatened.... until public backlash hit the news....accurately or not.

Many thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree it is unusual that the Rabbi should have threatened legal action in the first place, though if I assume the best of him, maybe he really thought that his civil rights were being infringed upon by not being able to put up a menorah. There is an element in American society that is more litigious and thus maybe litigation is a recourse used more easily there. It's difficult to second guess what he was thinking without actually talking to him.
While it may not make sense to me why he would have even mentioned litigation (need more info), the news as people hear it, and as I heard it, (so perhaps as it was presented on radio where I first came upon the story), is that the Rabbi had threatened litigation if the trees weren't taken down. This story doesn't read the same way as presented here, but both Tamarin and Tracy who have posted above, did get the message that the Rabbi wanted the trees gone. This is not the case, but it seems to be the perception. It is important to report stories carefully, particularly ones with such inflammatory potential as this one, and for us to read stories carefully as well.
Why did you mention the individual vendors who didn't take down the trees? (More power to them BTW).


I am sorry I was not clear in my message to you. There were conflicting reports as to what actually occurred on the phone between the Rabbi and the port authority person who took the call. The last call it would seem the Rabbi has toned down his threat of litigation due public disapproval and has given out differing statements as to what he actually said to the media.... and no doubt the media in their wry way did what they often do: skewed the story as well.

The port authority had the large trees stationed throughout the airport public facilities as they are the overseers of common areas...

When these were removed immediately after the Rabbi's telephone call to the port authority - by that group. At the time there were no "small trees" at the ticket counters until the large trees were taken down.

The "vendors" or individual airline companies decided to remedy the situation after hearing the outcry by the public - and put up small trees for public viewing at their ticket counter areas which I assume they believe they "own".

Since then, the airport authority have now rescinded their earlier action and I believe are putting the trees back up where they were originally in the public common areas....

Until the next mandate lol....

I feel sorry for the people having to lug those huge conifers back and forth at the whim of the bosses who are sitting mute in anxiety and terror!!!

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