A highly controversial plan made behind closed doors to ban a traditional Hanukkah menorah display on Moncton city property was reversed Monday following pressure from Jews and non-Jews alike across Canada.
Late Monday afternoon, Moncton city council voted to reinstate the Menorah display after opting in secret a week ago to ban it and a nativity scene from city property.
The Menorah display has been a fixture in Moncton, N.B. for 20 years.
According to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Mayor Dawn Arnold issued a public apology acknowledging there was a “lack of reflection and understanding” of the impact (I’d say so) and the ban could be construed as a “lack of support” toward certain members of the Moncton community.
The situation was a P.R. misfire from the get-go and left the impression that the mayor and her staff were cowardly, impulsive and discriminatory – especially in the wake of a virulent rise in Jew hatred across the country.
Moncton city councillor Daniel Bourgeois, who spoke with True North earlier Monday, said a board meeting was hastily called last week after city staff recommended an end to this display and a Nativity scene that has been around “forever.”
The councillors met in camera on Nov. 30 because the city’s legal staff deemed it a private matter (it really wasn’t), he said, adding that there was no intention to report the decision in public.
However, the Moncton Jewish community publicized the ridiculous and insulting move.
The excuse used for the ban, according to reports from the city’s Jewish leaders, was that Moncton officials suddenly believed they needed to comply with a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that found reciting a Catholic prayer before a council meeting violated one’s freedom of religion.
Hanukkah – a joyous holiday during which Jews light candles for eight nights – commences Thursday night.
Bourgeois said most councillors were “caught off guard.”
The ban was supposed to include all religious displays.
But it appears there were several exceptions.
Bourgeois said he wrote an email to Arnold asking why the recently held Santa Claus parade or a Lewisville fir tree display with a star on top or angels on Main St. are not considered religious symbols.
Arnold also appeared at a charity breakfast on Nov. 24 sporting antlers, a symbol associated with Christmas.
Bourgeois said he tried to convince his fellow politicians not to introduce a sweeping ban on all religious displays but to consider including all religious groups (not included in the past) and their symbols at the “appropriate time and place.”
As for the secrecy, the staff advised that they don’t need to go public.
I have news for them.
The decision to keep the move secret backfired on them and grabbed headlines across the country.
Whatever the reason – and I don’t believe the Supreme Court excuse – at least the pressure made Arnold and her councillors do what’s right.
Still, the timing of the move also suggested to me that they did so out of fear of backlash from the antisemites and pro-Palestinian protesters.
In fact, on Nov. 6 the pro-Palestinian contingent held a protest calling for a ceasefire.
News reports say the rally was organized in part by Rev. Steve Berube of a local United Church, who has allegedly been to Palestine on a mission – despite the fact that there is no country called Palestine.