A London local council has cancelled its annual Hanukkah candles this year as doing so could “risk further inflaming tensions within our communities”, they say.
Havering Council in East London is scaling back its Hanukkah celebration this year, and won’t put up a Menorah for eight days and nights, and will instead have a “temporary instillation and event” on December 7th which ITV London reports “will be taken down after”.
The council said, per the report, that their decision to cancel the outdoor menorah was in no way motivated by any feeling of antisemitism on behalf of their organisation, but rather from fear the candelabra could be vandalised. Proceeding with erecting the menorah could “risk further inflaming tensions within our communities”, it was claimed, because of “escalating tensions from the conflict in the Middle East”.
There had been an “increase in the number of hate crimes in Havering, both towards the Jewish and Muslim community”, it was claimed, and putting up the menorah would “not be without risk to the council, our partners, staff and local residents.”
Ultimately, the symbol could be the target of vandalism “or other action”, the council said.
The London Jewish Forum, along with the local Jewish community and our partners in communal organisations, have sent this letter to both the Leader and CEO of Havering Council, in light of the council’s current plans in relation to a public Chanukah lighting. pic.twitter.com/vZqKd9HuQ8
— London Jewish Forum (@JewishLondon) November 30, 2023
Jewish community leaders have said the council should reconsider their decision, Jewish News reports, saying not putting the candelabra outside the town hall as normal was undermining relations with the local community. The paper reports the Jewish Leadership Council said of the move: “Cancelling the planned installation of a menorah as a result of the rise in antisemitism is the worst possible way to respond to hatred.
“The council must reverse this decision and work with their local community to repair the damage this decision has caused.”
A letter to the council by the London Jewish Forum noted that the Jewish community in London had indeed been facing a severe rise in antisemitic attacks since the Hamas terror attack on Israel last month, but said this was a bad excuse to cancel the seasonal display. The statement said: “no one should be heard to suggest that the response of the Jewish community should be to hide away… instead, at such a difficult time our local Jewish community needs to see leadership from its civic leaders.”
The note also tackled the council’s claim that raising the menorah at this time could inflame tensions, countering that “the only people likely to be inflamed… are antisemites, and you should not allow antisemites to dictate council policy.” No reasonable person should be offended by the sight of an ancient symbol of the Jewish faith, they said.