Gove warns councils not to cancel Hanukkah celebration over Middle East conflict

Local councils should not cancel plans to mark Hanukkah or other religious celebrations over fears they could be “provocative”, Michael Gove has said.

The Communities Secretary said it was “wholly wrong” for local authorities to suggest celebration of religious festivals could be provocative, as the conflict between Hamas and Israel continues.

Havering Borough Council in east London had planned not to light Hanukkah candles from December 7 over concerns they could be vandalised.

But after claiming the celebration could “risk further inflaming tensions within our communities”, it has backtracked on the decision.

In the Commons, Conservative former minister Sir Michael Ellis claimed it was “impossible to imagine any local authority in the country trying to cancel the annual celebrations of any other faith group” apart from the Jewish community.

He added: “All local authorities at this sensitive time should be very careful to avoid any such rash action and should use intelligence and common sense in their decisions.”

Mr Gove said he was “absolutely correct”, adding: “It seems to me that it was based on a misconception, which is that the idea of the celebration of any faith should be seen as provocative at this time.

“We know that it is the case that there are individual Jewish citizens who feel uncomfortable wearing the kippah or any outward symbol of faith, and to have a London borough saying that the menorah should not be lit because it would be provocative at this time is wholly wrong.

“Freedom of religion, the chance for us all to express our faith, is fundamental to British values, and (Sir Michael) is right that other local authorities should not go down that same route.”

Speaking during communities questions, Mr Gove also warned MPs that a rising number of antisemitic incidents had taken place in the UK since Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7.

The senior Cabinet minister said: “Tragically, we have seen a significant increase in antisemitism since the events of October 7. The Community Security Trust records 1,500 antisemitic incidents between October 7 and November 22, the highest total in a 47-day period since records began in 1984.”

Conservative former minister Andrew Percy said: “There are some in the pro-Palestinian movement who continue to deny these atrocities took place; whether it’s dead babies or whether it’s gender-based violence against Jewish women, it appears that Jews don’t matter.

“This risks fuelling further the antisemitism we have seen in this country since those attacks.”

The Communities Secretary said: “(Mr Percy) is absolutely right. The events of October 7 were uniquely horrific. It was an exercise in calculated, premeditated sadism, which everyone in this House condemns.

“However, he is right, there are some voices, including some prominent media voices, that have considered it appropriate… to question and to prevaricate in the face of this violence.

“And I think it is vitally important that even as we recognise that all life is precious, even as we recognise that it is vitally important that we do what we can to minimise casualties in this conflict, that we recognise the events of October 7 stand out as the biggest slaughter of Jewish civilians since the Holocaust, and for that reason there can be no quibbling when we face such a transparent evil.”

Havering Borough Council’s original statement outlining why it had cancelled its Hanukkah plans said the authority believed it would be “unwise” to go ahead with its installation after an increase in the number of hate crimes towards Jewish and Muslim communities.

It said: “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.