A town hall is refusing to light Hanukkah candles over fears of “vandalism” and “inflaming tensions”.
Havering council claimed that the traditional menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum that is lit during the eight-day Jewish holiday, could put residents at “risk”.
The east London authority will still hold a “temporary installation and event” for the start of the festival on Dec 7, the details of which have not been released, but it will then be swiftly taken down.
Jewish campaigners said it was “shocking” and demanded that council chiefs “reverse this cowardly decision at once”.
Havering, where the Muslim population is 12 times the size of the Jewish community, has previously lit candles outside Havering town hall in Romford to mark Hanukkah.
But citing the Israel-Hamas war that began on Oct 7, the council said it “has taken the difficult decision to pause the planned installation of the Hanukkah menorah outside Havering town hall this year”.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“We would also be concerned with any possible vandalism or other action against the installation.”
The authority added: “However, due to an increase in the number of hate crimes in Havering, both towards the Jewish and Muslim community, and after consulting with the leader of the council, we believe it would be unwise to move forward with the installation which could risk further inflaming tensions within our communities.”
‘This is shocking’
The Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “This is shocking. 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. If people are offended by the sight of Judaism, then the council should be looking to educate, if not ostracise, those people, not appease them.
“Last Sunday, British Jews marched in pride, shoulder to shoulder with our allies, in central London. We can never appease those who hate us by hiding who we are. Havering council must reverse this cowardly decision at once.”
Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative MP for Romford, had recently written to the council’s leader Ray Morgon to warn that not lighting the candles “would be a grave insult to Jewish communities in Romford”.
But Havering council chiefs hit back at critics, accusing campaigners of “politicising this and making accusations of anti-Semitism”, adding: “This is categorically untrue and such statements are likely to incite further unrest in our communities.”
The authority insisted that it “does not take sides in the current conflict”, pointing out that it flew the Israeli flag following the Hamas massacre last month and stressing that it would “revisit next year when we hope community tensions will have subsided”.
There are just over 1,300 Jews in Havering, or 0.5 per cent of the population, according to the 2021 census. Some 6.2 per cent of residents are Muslim, a rise of 2 per cent on a decade earlier.