The East London Havering Council announced the cancellation of Hanukkah celebrations this year on Thursday, November 30th, including the display of a Jewish menorah, citing concerns over tensions relating to the ongoing conflict between the terrorist group Hamas and the state of Israel until a public outcry led to a reversal of the decision.
In a statement, the Council said:
The Council has taken the difficult decision to pause the planned installation of the Chanukah 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.
We would also be concerned with any possible vandalism or other action against the installation. There will still be a temporary installation and event to celebrate the beginning of Hanukkah. This will be taken down after the event, and we will look at a longer-term installation next year.
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. When we started work on the installation, no one could have foreseen the recent international events, and we have been fully committed to installing the candelabra, with a number of council teams working to support it.
Sadly, there are some who are politicising this and making accusations of antisemitism. This is categorically untrue, and such statements are likely to incite further unrest in our communities.
The cancellation was met with criticism from the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which stated on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Nearly 70% of British Jews say they are less likely to show visible signs of their Judaism, and actions like this only foster such behaviour. Abysmal decision.”
The Muslim Association of Great Britain, meanwhile, offered their help to the Havering Jewish community, saying, “We stand ready to offer our support to our Jewish brother[s] and sisters who feel threatened and afraid.”
The group offered stewards to “ensure the smooth running and security of any event” and stated that Havering Council “should reconsider their decision and not help feed hate and antisemitism in Britain.”
On Friday, December 1st, the council backtracked on its decision, stating that the installation of the menorah would go ahead as planned on December 13th after the council met with local rabbis.
“We had a very constructive meeting to discuss our concerns, and I fully appreciate why this is such an important installation for our Jewish community,” Council head Ray Morgon said, adding, “We look forward to the completion of the permanent installation and our first Chanukah ceremony.”
Since the massacre of over a thousand Israeli civilians by Hamas and the resulting Gaza military campaign by Israel, tensions in London have been high, as each week thousands of people have taken to the streets in support of the Palestinians.
Some of the demonstrators have chanted slogans such as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free,” which many groups deem an antisemitic call for the removal of the Jewish people from Israel.
Along with murdering men, women, and children, Hamas also kidnapped over a hundred hostages on October 7th and brought them to Gaza.
In an effort to highlight the situation of the hostages, Jewish groups and others placed posters displaying their names and photographs in many cities across the world, including London.
However, London’s Metropolitan Police were caught ripping down some of the posters in Edgware in northern London at the end of October, leading to outrage among many on social media and elsewhere.
The Met defended the actions of the officers, claiming the posters had been put up on the shutter of a shop in retaliation for comments about the conflict between Hamas and Israel made online by a persona associated with the business.
“We do have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to stop issues [from] escalating and to avoid any further increase in community tension. On this occasion, that is what officers were trying to do,” Scotland Yard said.