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Pro-Palestinian protesters wanted Newsom to hear them at tree lighting. He moved the event online

The California Capitol dome with a Christmas tree.
The Capitol Christmas tree in 2020, in Sacramento. Gov. Gavin Newsom decided not to hold this year’s tree lighting in person.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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In an abrupt shift of plans, California’s annual holiday tree lighting at the Capitol was postponed a day and moved online, a change state officials attributed to potential protests.

The event had been planned as a public gathering Tuesday night but was rescheduled to a pre-recorded, virtual ceremony that streamed Wednesday evening, according to a statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

“As we continue to see protests across the country impacting the safety of events of all scales — and for the safety and security of all participating members and guests including children and families — the ceremony this year will be virtual,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office said in a statement.

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It wasn’t immediately clear which protests were a concern or whether there were any threats, but a pro-Palestinian coalition had planned a protest at the Capitol for California’s 92nd annual tree lighting. A social media account for the Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights promoted a rally for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip during the original in-person event, calling for “no celebrations while silent on genocide.”

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When the event was moved to Wednesday, the coalition still decided to rally at the Capitol on Tuesday evening, said Makeez Sawez, a co-founder of the Sacramento group Youth4Palestine, part of the larger coalition. She said she was disappointed with Newsom’s decision and pointed out that similar protests in Sacramento, although disruptive, had been peaceful.

“We went because even though he didn’t show up — we did show up,” Sawez said. “We are not afraid to sit down and have tough conversations.”

Sawez said she wished the governor would be willing to do the same. About 300 people showed up to rally Tuesday night, she said, calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and more humanitarian aid as the war escalates once again.

Newsom has largely followed President Biden’s pro-Israel stance; in October, he visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israelis who were injured in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. California sent medical aid to Israel, though Newsom said officials were also working to do so for Gaza.

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Earlier this week, pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted New York’s tree lighting ceremony, with some demonstrators clashing with police. Other ceremonies across the country, including in Boston and Seattle, have also seen protests, though no issues were reported in those cities.

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Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, joined by honored guest 5-year-old Harley Goodpasture, lighted the 60-foot red fir tree in a streamed video shared Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Harley is the first Native American child to assist with the annual ceremony, the governor’s office said. Her presence continued the state’s tradition that the governor’s special guest is chosen from one of the Department of Developmental Services’ nonprofit regional centers, which provide local services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ornaments for this year’s tree were made by people with disabilities from across the state’s 21 regional centers.

Harley’s parents, Season and James Goodpasture, founded Acorns to Oak Trees, the first service provider utilized by a regional center on tribal land.

Despite the new schedule and shift to a virtual event, the ceremony was otherwise unchanged, officials said, and featured the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the Wilton Rancheria.

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