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30 Nov, 2023 18:35

London council scraps Hanukkah menorah plan over ‘possible vandalism’

The installation only risked “inflaming tensions” within the community, Havering Borough officials argued
London council scraps Hanukkah menorah plan over ‘possible vandalism’

The Borough of Havering in East London has abandoned its plans to erect the traditional Hanukkah menorah in front of Town Hall this year, opting to only briefly place a “temporary installation” in its stead. 

The local council attributed the move to the “escalating tensions from the conflict in the Middle East” and stood by its decision despite facing sharp criticism, which included accusations of “cowardice” and even “anti-Semitism.”

The decision to scrap the display to celebrate the upcoming Jewish festival was first reported by local media on Wednesday. Havering council claimed that placing the Hanukkiah, a special nine-branched candelabrum traditionally lit during the eight-day holiday, commonly referred to simply as the ‘Hanukkah menorah,’ would “risk further inflaming tensions” within the community.

Instead, the council said it would erect a “temporary installation” to mark the beginning of Hanukkah, which will be dismantled immediately after the event.

The move has been harshly criticized by Jewish rights groups and politicians alike, with local Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell expressing “grave concern” over the decision.

“Should this be true, this would be a grave insult to the Jewish community in Romford. Fundamentally this is a matter of religious freedom, and has nothing to do with current affairs in the Middle East,” the MP stated.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism, a London-based NGO, slammed the decision by the council as a display of “cowardice” and a breach of its public duties.

“At a time when nearly seven in 10 British Jews feel afraid to express their identity in public, this is a monumental dereliction of duty,” the group said.

In light of the criticism, the council released a detailed statement on Thursday in which it pledged to stand by its decision and provided its reasoning for abandoning the menorah display plans.

“We appreciate this is a hugely sensitive issue but in light of escalating tensions from the conflict in the Middle East, installing the candelabra now will not be without risk to the Council, our partners, staff and local residents. We would also be concerned with any possible vandalism or other action against the installation,” the council explained, adding that the conflict between Israel and Hamas had already prompted an “increase in the number of hate crimes in Havering, both towards the Jewish and Muslim community.”

The council has strongly denied any allegations of anti-Semitism, insisting that such a statement was “categorically untrue and such statements are likely to incite further unrest in our communities.”

“The Council flew the Israeli flag in solidarity following the heinous terrorist attack against the people of Israel and we continue to stand by our local Jewish communities,” it added, expressing hopes “that community tensions will have subsided” by next year’s festivities.