Labour man grilled at Leeds synagogue hustings

Heated clashes over antisemitism dominated an election event attended by 150 people at a Leeds synagogue.


Heated clashes over antisemitism dominated a hustings event attended by 150 people at a Leeds synagogue.

Etz Chaim shul in Alwoodley sits at the heart of both the city’s Jewish community and the Leeds North East constituency.

Fabian Hamilton, standing for Labour after winning the West Yorkshire seat for the party at every election since 1997, told the audience he hoped he had “delivered” for constituents of all backgrounds during his time in Parliament.

The shadow cabinet minister, whose grandfather was a rabbi, said the NHS, schools and education would be his primary concerns if he is re-elected.

But the repeated questions over Jew-hatred in Labour posed his toughest challenge of last Thursday evening.

A long-standing Labour voter asked why he should back the party next month when Jeremy Corbyn had previously referred to terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”.

Following a spat with Ryan Stephenson over Labour’s record on antisemitism, Mr Hamilton told the Tory candidate: “You have a problem too. 

“There are antisemites in the Conservative Party. We must confront this wherever we see it. At least Labour had the honesty to do it — you hadn’t.”

Mr Hamilton conceded there were people in his party who did not like Israel, but they were “entitled to their opinion”, he said. 

Jon Hannah, the Lib Dem candidate, left his position as Head of Improvement Science in NHS England two years ago feeling “deflated” by the affect of cuts on the health service. 

But he was also forced to deal with the issue of antisemitism, saying he could not defend the length of time it had taken for his party to deal with controversial comments made by former MP David Ward and Baroness Tonge.

The focus remained heavily on Mr Hamilton and Labour’s problems, however.

“As a Jew I would not remain a Labour Party member if I thought it was deeply antisemitic,” he said.

The challenge for him and his Labour colleagues: “Do we just walk away and say we’ve had enough or do we stay and fight our corner, making sure we can change things with regard to antisemitism, support for Israel and a peaceful two state Middle East solution?”

The voters of North East Leeds — 1 in 20 of whom are Jewish — may take that decision out of Mr Hamilton’s hands.

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