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Fury as east London council scraps plans to install Hanukkah menorah over fears of 'inflaming community tensions'
29 November 2023, 17:27 | Updated: 29 November 2023, 17:29
An east London council has sparked fury among some members of the local Jewish community by cancelling the installation of a menorah for Hanukkah over fears it could "inflame tensions".
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Havering Council had been planning to put up the menorah outside the town hall in Romford on December 12 as part of a celebration of Hanukkah.
But the plans have been put on hold for this year, with the council blaming "an increase in the number of hate crimes in Havering, both towards the Jewish and Muslim community".
Havering said that installing the menorah "could risk further inflaming tensions within our communities". A spokesperson also said the council was concerned about vandalism.
Hanukkah is the Jewish "festival of light", lasting from December 7-15. It is traditionally marked by lighting a menorah, a candelabrum made up of nine candles. Hackney is among several local councils that are planning to put a menorah up outside town halls.
Local MP Andrew Rosindell voiced his "grave concern" at the council's change of plans.
The Conservative MP for Romford said in a letter to the local authority that cancelling the installation "would be a grave insult to the Jewish community".
"Fundamentally this is a matter of religious freedom, and has nothing to do with current affairs in the Middle East. However, the Council supporting such celebration is even more pertinent at this time.
"The only Jewish state in the world is suffering under the thumb of terror whilst the British Jewish community is fearful of a rise in antisemitism."
Mr Rosindell pointed out that Havering Council facilitates other public celebrations of religious holidays, including the Hindu festival of Diwali.
A local member of the Jewish community called the change of plans "shameless" and added that he felt "completely insulted".
He said that if the council did not allow the installation, he and other local Jewish people planned to have their own Hanukkah menorah lighting ceremony.
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.
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"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.
"We have informed our community and faith partners and will continue to provide support to all our communities and work with the local Police to ensure that everyone feels safe in Havering.”