Santa Fired for Criticizing Israel's War on Gaza

Chris Menahan
Dec. 24, 2023

Ken Dorph, a consultant who has played Santa for the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, was fired from his job as jolly Saint Nick for criticizing Israel's war on Gaza during a lecture at a local synagogue.


[Note: the interview is in English.]

From CNN, "I criticized the war in Gaza. Then I was fired from my job as Santa":
After the horrific Hamas attack and the devastating Israeli response, several friends and neighbors asked what I thought. On October 28th, I gave a talk at a local church in Sag Harbor entitled, "Palestine / Israel: What Gives?" to a full house. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

About a month later, I was invited to attend a lecture at the local synagogue — this time as an audience member — on the topic of "Answering the Tough Questions" about Israel. Given the intriguing title, I perceived the invitation as an olive branch. I thought, perhaps narcissistically, that I was specifically invited for my unique Middle East expertise.

I could not have been more wrong. The talk seemed intended to offer instruction on how to deflect tough questions challenging the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and its violence against the Palestinians, rather than inform. I confronted the speaker to counter what I considered inaccuracies in the presentation and when it was over, I shared how disappointing I found it. The talk was unhelpful and sounded to my ears like a propaganda session. [Ed note: the talk was given by Belle Yoeli, a "chief advocacy officer" for the American Jewish Committee.]

@afeefnessouli BRING BACK OUR ANTI-PROPAGANDA SANTA! When I asked Ken Dorph what we should call this headline he said: “How about simply, ‘We need a Santa who loves everyone, including Palestinians!’” Ken has extensive expertise in the Middle East. His Arabic is amazing and he has lived in several Arabic speaking countries. So in late October, he was invited to speak about the Middle East. His talk- which largely focuses on peace building and history- rubbed some community members the wrong way. In response, they invited him to their own talk. Before he knew it, he was a canceled Santa! Thanks to @alexandra_talty for putting me in touch with @kjdorph so he could tell me his story on camera, and for Finny Dianora-Brondal on 🎥 Ken, I hope you get to be Santa Clause again soon! #palestine #gaza #freegaza #christmas #santa #journalism #istandwithpalestine #xmas #lgbt #gay #holidays #holidayspirit #pride #loveislove #nyc #sagharbor #ny #newyork #longisland #hamptons #journalism #news #foryou #explore #important #share #insta #instagram #queer #lgbtq #lesbian ♬ original sound - Afeef T. Nessouli

I pointed out that it did not remotely address the "tough questions" needed to help bring about peace in the region. The presentation seemed a missed opportunity to have real discussion, at a time when thousands of Palestinians were being killed by American weapons.
Several days later, I received an email from Sag Harbor's Chamber of Commerce informing me that I was to hand in my fur-trimmed red suit, wide black belt and jingles: I was deemed to be too outspoken to be Santa. I was devastated. Not only was I sad for losing the chance to ride in the Village on the firetruck in all my jolly glory, but I felt thwacked in my bowlful of jelly for speaking out in another life, as another character.

A journalist friend contacted the New York Times, and a reporter contacted me. After some agonizing — this is a small town, after all — I decided that I had to share what happened. The newspaper published the story, which was picked up globally. I'm happy to say that, since the story came out, I have been invited to be Santa Claus all over the United States and beyond.

Unsurprisingly, this controversy has amplified the debate about how and whether we can talk about Israel and the Palestinian people without castigation. I fervently hope that the ill will it has stirred locally will transform into good will.
The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce defended firing Dorph in a statement to CNN:
The Executive Committee of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that Dorph was asked to step aside after he posted an "official-looking Chamber social media post" showing himself in the role of Santa without the approval of the group, and because of his recent actions in public forums. The Chamber pointed to its "long history of hosting a very simple meet-the-Santa, inherently free of any controversy through Santa's anonymity."
The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce was reportedly sent 11 emails from the synagogue's members demanding he be canceled and chose to cave immediately.

"Any reason given for dismissing Santa other than the emails from [Temple Adas Israel Synagogue] is a post facto fabrication to justify the chambers incorrect decision," Dorph said.

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