Jewish MP promoted to shadow minister says he can work with Jeremy Corbyn despite Israel differences

By Marcus Dysch, January 11, 2016
MP Fabian Hamilton

MP Fabian Hamilton

One of Labour’s new shadow foreign ministers has said he believes he can work under Jeremy Corbyn despite their differences of opinion on Israel.

Fabian Hamilton, a vocal critic of the party’s approach to the issue of Palestinian statehood during Ed Miliband’s leadership, said he knew there would be “difficult bridges to cross” in his work alongside Mr Corbyn.

He indicated that he would not have taken on the role had Shadow International Development Secretary Diane Abbott been promoted, due to his friendship and support for Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.

But the 60-year-old said he felt duty-bound to take the job and use his experience of foreign affairs to benefit the party.

Mr Hamilton said: “I know what the Jewish community thinks about Jeremy’s leadership and I’m well aware of Jeremy’s views, but the Labour Party is more than one person.

“I did point out my own particular views that are very different to Jeremy’s on the Middle East and I was told ‘that’s fine, he’s perfectly happy with that’.”

Mr Hamilton was promoted to the shadow frontbench team last Thursday after being contacted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell during Jeremy Corbyn’s protracted reshuffle.

He admitted it was “weird” to be offered a shadow role after almost 20 years on the backbenches.

The position includes responsibility for issues relating to the United Nations and Nato, nuclear counter-proliferation – he opposes renewing the Trident missile system – sub-Saharan Africa and countries in the Indian subcontinent.

Acknowledging Mr Corbyn’s past criticisms of Israel, Mr Hamilton said his election as party leader represented a “further step against Israel” following Mr Miliband’s time in charge.

But the Leeds North East MP said: “What’s important is in fact Hilary’s position. Even on the Syria vote Jeremy didn’t interfere that much. It was a free vote and Hilary was allowed to say what he wanted to say and he said it very well. Now I disagree with that – particularly the bombing of Syria – but I wholly admire what he said.

“If it had been Diane Abbott – as Shadow Foreign Secretary – it would have been different. But it’s Hilary Benn, a close personal friend, someone I’ve worked closely with over many years, a neighbouring MP, someone I trust hugely. I don’t think he and I differ at all actually on our approach to the Middle East.

“I’ve had a conversation with Hilary already about a two-state solution and I think we’re on the same page.”

In December Mr Hamilton had criticised Mr Corbyn while speaking at an event held in aid of Wizo in Leeds.

He had told the audience that his party leader “hasn't got very good judgment, which means that some of the people around him are utterly awful".

Mr Hamilton had predicted that Mr Corbyn would not be leader at the next election in 2020, but did describe him as “one of the nicest people I have ever met”.

The Jewish MP said he stood by his views of the leader’s advisers following his promotion, but said that his remarks relating to Mr Corbyn’s judgment had been in relation to his past comments about Hizbollah.

“Some of the people around Jeremy, I do question their judgment,” Mr Hamilton said on Monday. “As you mature in any job you get more expert at it and hopefully as you get older you get a bit more wisdom. I would like to use the knowledge, understanding and experience I have gained for the benefit of the Labour Party.

“There will be areas that will be difficult, I accept that, but I’ll have to make a judgement at the time. I’ll cross any difficult bridges when I come to them.”

Ahead of last May’s general election, Mr Hamilton expressed his anger over Mr Miliband’s attempt to whip MPs into voting for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state in October 2014. Mr Hamilton rebelled and abstained in the vote.

In April last year Mr Hamilton told the JC: “I was steaming mad the day before the Palestine debate when I got a text from the whips saying ‘you must vote’. A third of the shadow cabinet boycotted it. Our leader’s choice on this did not help us.”

He said Jewish voters would be “fed up with Miliband for betraying Israel and the community”.

Revisiting those comments now, Mr Hamilton said: “Yes I was critical of Ed. I think he interfered far too much in the foreign affairs brief, partly because I think his Shadow Foreign Secretary (Douglas Alexander) was nowhere near clear or distinctive enough, but it’s very different with Hilary Benn.”

Mr Hamilton extended his attack on Mr Alexander – who lost his seat in May’s general election – saying he was “very weak”.
“His views, whatever they were, didn’t come across, if he had any. Whereas Hilary is very clear and he’s extremely professional and very experienced.”

Mr Hamilton said he would rely on his decade on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and network of contacts in India, Pakistan, Nepal and across the Middle East, to “improve the work we do”.

“I’m not going to sit here three days into the job and say ‘if this happens I’ll resign or if that happens I’ll resign’. I’m going to have to see how it goes.

“The people who appointed me are very well aware what my views are and they made a conscious decision to ask me to do the job despite that.”

Last updated: 8:40am, January 12 2016