Dilemmas aplenty for Jewish voters in Leeds

In the seat that most of Leeds' Jews call home, it is the Conservative candidate who has been accused of antisemitism


Leeds is home to the third largest Jewish community in the UK, made up of around 10,000 people, with most living in the Leeds North East constituency.

Recently, the Jewish community living in the suburbs of LS17 — which includes Alwoodley and Moortown — has enjoyed a period of rejuvenation.

Despite that, Jewish voters in the constituency were keen to air their concerns.

The Conservative party’s candidate for the seat, Amjad Bashir, this week issued an apology to the Conservative Friends of Israel and offered to meet the Board of Deputies over his comments about British Jews who return from Israel being “brainwashed extremists”.

Mr Bashir was suspended by the party after his comments were revealed by the JC — although election rules mean he will remain the Tory candidate.

The former Ukip MEP’s efforts to make amends did not convince many voters in the Leeds constituency.

Malcom Berwin, 92, has lived in the constituency all his life and until this week was confident about how he was going to vote.

He said he was no fan of the previous MP of 22 years and current Labour candidate Fabian Hamilton, who is close to Jeremy Corbyn and “has anti-Israel views. He has been totally unrepresentative of the Jewish community here or of our concerns over antisemitism in the Labour party.

“He acts like it is a load of rubbish and does anything to defend Jeremy Corbyn and his handling of the problem.”

Mr Berwin said he would normally “vote Conservative”, adding: “As a former businessman I think their policies are more sensible. I think Labour’s idea of a 32-hour week is ridiculous.”

But since the news about Mr Bashir came to light, he said he was “feeling very uncomfortable and concerned. I don’t know who to vote for.”

He felt it was a two-horse race due to the Lib Dems only achieving 1,952 votes at the last election, despite the constituency voting overwhelmingly to remain.

“The Lib Dems are of no use to us here,” he said.

On the other hand, Mr Hamilton, who is Jewish, secured a sizable majority in the 2017 election with 33,436 votes, accounting for 63.1 per cent share of the vote.

In an email, Mr Hamilton said he had spoken to voters who were “positive about Labour’s commitments on prioritising climate change, protecting our NHS against privatisation, and putting Brexit back to the people.”

Despite criticism of him staying quiet on antisemitism, he said Mr Bashir’s comments were “disgraceful. Any person that holds such offensive views is not fit to hold public office, whatever party they represent. He has insulted the entire Jewish community in North East Leeds with his antisemitic remarks.”

Brian Bloom, a retired pharmacist, said he was “feeling very worried” about the election. He voted Conservative in recent years but said he used to vote Labour under Tony Blair.

“I don’t think Hamilton is worthy of being an MP but my local Conservative councillor, who is Jewish, has refused to campaign for the Conservative candidate over antisemitism and I don’t see how I can support him either.”

Ordinarily he would be concerned about “Brexit and the economy. I’m a proud Remainer but I don’t think it is OK to ignore that Brexit won and we should leave. I don’t think I can vote Lib Dem either.” The 73-year-old said he feels “disenfranchised.” His biggest fear is that when it comes to antisemitism in the Labour Party “the genie is out of the bottle”.

Alexandra Myers, 58, said for the first time in her life she had started to question “how long I should be living here” due to the mainstreaming of antisemitism and its acceptance in Labour.

“I’m a traditional Jewish person with strong Jewish values. I have tried to have discussions with Fabian Hamilton at the last election and he was useless. He is not interested in our concerns.”

Ms Myers said she was “horrified” about the Tory candidate’s comments on Israel and “part of me would vote Lib Dem but I don’t trust them not to form a coalition with Labour.”

Neither is she keen on their Brexit stance. “I voted to remain but I accept that the country voted to leave. The problem with the Lib Dem candidate is that I haven’t heard from him.”

The reason for the lack of a Lib Dem presence could be down to the fact that candidate Jon Hannah is juggling campaigning and being a supply teacher in a local secondary school.

Of all the candidates, he was the only one who made time between lessons to speak to the JC and, having stood in the 2017 election he is hopeful about doing better this time.

“In 2017 I met with people from the Jewish community and I’ve kept my links with people since then.

“The antisemitism we have seen from Labour and now the Conservatives is abhorrent and I think Amjad Bashir should withdraw. He is not fit for public office.

“From what I hear about Fabian he does little for the Jewish community and likes to fly out on trips rather than support the local community. The remain feeling has only got stronger here, and if I am MP I will work with the local community to improve… the road systems and business rates.”


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive