In a major about-face, a London council has rescinded plans to cancel a Chanukah display on Dec. 12.
“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,” Havering Council, in East London, stated last Thursday.
“We would also be concerned with any possible vandalism or other action against the installation,” said the council, noting that it would “pause” the practice of having a Chanukah menorah installed throughout the holiday. “There will still be a temporary installation and event to celebrate the beginning of Chanukah,” it stated. “This will be taken down after the event, and we will look at a longer-term installation next year.”
The council claimed it was being unfairly attacked for the decision.
“Sadly, there are some who are politicizing this and making accusations of antisemitism. This is categorically untrue, and such statements are likely to incite further unrest in our communities,” it stated. “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.”
The following day, on Friday, the council issued a joint statement with the local Jewish community. In a meeting, the London Jewish Forum, Essex Jewish Community Council and two local rabbis “were able to reassure the council on all of the concerns it had previously expressed,” per the statement.
“Following this, the parties are delighted to announce that the council has confirmed its intention to proceed with the permanent installation of the menorah as originally planned,” it added. “In addition to the permanent menorah, the candle-lighting ceremony is going ahead as arranged on Dec. 12.”
‘Public display of season’s key symbol’
The council’s initial decision had prompted a flurry of condemnation from Jewish groups, even drawing the attention of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. “All Londoners should be able to celebrate their faith openly,” he wrote on social media. “At this time of heightened fear among London’s Jewish community, it is important that our Jewish friends and neighbors are able to publicly celebrate Chanukah.”
The London Jewish Forum, a joint project of community bodies the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, accused the council of allowing antisemitic sentiments to shape its policy decisions. No one should suggest the Jewish community ought to “hide away and cancel the public display of the season’s key Jewish symbol,” they said.
Following the meeting, in which it was decided to reinstate the menorah display, Daniella Myers, director of the London Jewish Forum, said on Friday that “our community has been listened to, and as a result, we are very pleased to say the planned installation of the Havering menorah will be going ahead.”
“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,” wrote Ray Morgon, leader of the Havering Council. “We look forward to the completion of the permanent installation and our first Chanukah ceremony.”
“We welcome Havering Council’s reversal of its cowardly decision after pressure from us and others, but it should never have been made in the first place,” Isobel Carter, a spokeswoman for Campaign Against Antisemitism, told JNS.
“Havering Council’s decision not to display the Chanukah lamp was shocking. At a time when nearly seven in 10 British Jews feel afraid to express their identity in public, it was a monumental dereliction of duty,” Carter said. “If people are offended by the sight of Judaism, then the council should be looking to educate, if not ostracize, those people, not appease them.”
The controversy comes amid record-high levels of antisemitism in London, with recent data indicating at least 1,747 antisemitic incidents recorded in the United Kingdom since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks.
Appealing to antisemites?
Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly, told JNS that “It was utterly disgraceful that the installation was canceled in the first place, and demonstrated that there is no difference between those who hate Israel and those who hate Jews.”
Mond noted that a festival in Williamsburg, Va., had also sparked controversy by canceling a Chanukah display. “Cancellation decisions such as these are motivated by a desire to appease those who hate Jews,” he said. “It is not a question of violence; since the outbreak of hostilities on Oct. 7, there have been many pro-Israel rallies and marches without violence.”
Religious events, Chanukah celebrations “should not attract those who wish to cause disruption,” Mond said. “These decisions, wherever in the world, show a lack of understanding as to how important these celebrations are to local Jewish communities everywhere.”