A Hannukkah celebration has been cancelled due to fears a giant menorah will become the target of vandalism amid the war in Gaza.
Havering Council in east London has said it would be “unwise” for the traditional menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day Jewish holiday, to be installed outside Havering Town Hall in Romford. It said going ahead could “risk further inflaming tensions within our communities”.
But the authority has been accused of “capitulating to terrorism” by scrapping the celebration.
Town hall bosses have called accusations of antisemitism “categorically untrue” and said they hope a longer-lasting instillation can remain in place next year.
Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, condemned the move.
“By not allowing the Jewish community to celebrate and practice their faith properly, we are capitulating to terrorism,” he told the Independent.
“The Jewish community are amongst the most patriotic people in Britain and so, it is our obligation to stand with them during their time of need. We cannot allow antisemitism to win in Britain.”
Local community leaders urged the council to rethink its decision.
Romford Rabbi Lee Sunderland told Havering Daily: “This is an opportunity to stand up to the hostility that would silence Judaism or any form of diversity and celebrate it to its fullest.
“This may be a Jewish festival but it is a lesson for the whole world and for every generation. Most especially, please let us celebrate this in public and begin to bring the citizens of Havering together now.”
A Jewish Leadership Council spokeswoman said the organisation had written a letter to Havering Council chiefs demanding they reverse the decision.
She told The Independent: “The Jewish community, alongside other ethnic and religious groups, deserve to be welcomed and have our traditions respected and celebrated.
“The display of cultural and religious symbols in public spaces symbolises our country’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Avoiding such displays amounts to capitulating to the intolerant elements within our society.
“The correct response is not to succumb to this hatred, nor should it be for others to decide to conceal or diminish our cultural identities out of fear of provoking antisemitic sentiments.
“Rather, this is a crucial moment for all to demonstrate their support for British Jews, reinforcing the message that our cultural and religious practices are a cherished and integral part of our national tapestry.”
Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins at midnight on 7 December and is celebrated every year to remember the revolt of the Maccabees more than 2,000 years ago. The Maccabees were a group of Jews who fought for and protected their right to practise their religion.
The Maccabees repaired their temple and lit the Menorah, a symbol of God’s presence in the temple. Although there was just enough oil to last one day, the lamp burned for eight days — which is why the modern festival of lights lasts that long.
A Havering Council spokesperson 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 anti-Semitism. This is 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.
“However, while the war is ongoing we feel we must postpone the planned installation. This is not a decision we have taken lightly and we will revisit next year when we hope that community tensions will have subsided. Havering Council does not take sides in the current conflict and regrets the loss of life, injury and distress on both sides.”