A Labour veteran has accused party leader Ed Miliband of “betraying” Israel with his position on the Gaza conflict and making it harder for the party’s candidates to be elected in areas with a high proportion of Jewish voters.
Fabian Hamilton, who is hoping to retain his seat in Leeds North East at next month’s election, said he was also angry over the party leadership’s attempt to whip MPs into voting for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
Mr Miliband has repeatedly defended his stance on Israel’s operation in Gaza, which he had called “wrong and unjustifiable” last summer.
Mr Hamilton, a Labour Friends of Israel supporter, said: “I’d be lying if I said there had been no impact at all. 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.”
Labour backbenchers led the campaign to vote to recognise Palestine in last October’s vote, but Mr Hamilton, the grandson of a rabbi, rebelled and abstained.
Mr Hamilton’s constituency includes the suburbs of Moortown and Alwoodley, where many of Leeds’s 8,000 Jews live and where most of the community’s synagogues are located.
He acknowledged that it was only voters’ personal loyalty to him that is preventing them abandoning the party.
He said: “We will see what happens at the ballot box. I have some very strong personal relationships. But people have said to me that if it was not me they might consider not voting Labour.”
He said Mr Miliband’s Israel stand had been “damaging”, but added: “I’ve been pretty active in the constituency over 18 years, and I am Jewish, so that does help. There are Conservative supporters who will vote for me because I’m Jewish. But there are voters who will be fed up with Miliband for betraying Israel and the community.”
Mr Hamilton has represented the constituency — where 5.3 per cent of voters are Jewish — since Labour’s electon landslide in 1997. Since then, he has built a strong understanding of Leeds Jewry, he said.
“I’ve been campaigning since the beginning of the year. It’s been very interesting. The Jewish community is very concerned about the different attitudes towards Israel, Palestine and antisemitism, and the safety and security of the community. There is real concern and in some quarters real fear. I think that’s largely unfounded. It’s a safe city and there’s no real bitter feeling.”
Efforts to encourage the Muslim and Jewish communities in the constituency to work together had provided some “good encounters” at the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre and the local Islamic centre, he said.
Bookies make the former councillor the run-away favourite to be back in Parliament next month, and Mr Hamilton believes it will ultimately be a local take on national issues that decide his fate.
“A lot of people are intensely angry about zero-hours contracts, the bedroom tax and the economy,” he said.
“I represent a relatively prosperous constituency with pockets of extreme poverty. Business people I know have said the economy is a bit better, but the hype from London is not what we are seeing here. I’ve knocked on a lot of doors and not one person has mentioned the mansion tax or immigration.”