Jewish voters in Leeds walk out of hustings over Labour antisemitism

Members of Leeds’ Jewish community last night walked out of a hustings organised by religious representatives over antisemitism.

Leeds North East candidates were invited to the event, organised by the Leeds Jewish Representative Council.

But a group of audience members left the session in protest over Labour candidate Fabian Hamilton’s responses to questions of antisemitism in his party.

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Amjad Bashir, the Conservative party candidate, had agreed to attend despite being suspended by the Tories over antisemitic comments saying that British Jews return from trips to Israel as “brainwashed extremists”.

Candidates at the Leeds North West hustings. Photo: Tali Fraser
Candidates at the Leeds North West hustings. Photo: Tali Fraser

He has since apologised and the Conservatives have distanced themselves from their former pick, but in his absence frustration felt by members of the community was directed at Mr Hamilton.

Organisers warned tensions were running high in the election, particularly in the Leeds North East constituency, but asked for decorum and to keep in mind that it was a community event.

And Mr Hamilton gave an opening statement where he spoke about being an MP since 1997 but this was met with calls from the audience of “too long”.

He was then taken to task over the Labour party’s response to antisemitism. Asked whether with an increase in hate crime, and whether respective parties had done enough to tackle anti-Semitism, Mr Hamilton said “There is no room in politics or society for any sort of hate crime”.

Labour candidate Fabian Hamilton was challenged by members of the audience. Photo: Tali Fraser

“My party is not institutionally antisemitic”, he added.

However, some in the audience disagreed with shouts of “rubbish”, claiming Labour had not dealt quickly enough with complaints of antisemitism.

Mr Hamilton disagreed and said other parties have more cases of antisemitism than Labour, and he said: “We must stop being divided”.

Heckling reached such a fever pitch organisers had to intervene but shouts of “he represents us” and “what is the point if he isn’t answering the questions” continued, while Mr Hamilton asked the audience to let him finish.

Mr Hamilton was also asked whether he and the Labour party had dealt adequately with accusations of antisemitism.

Mr Hamilton said: “No, we have not dealt with antisemitism adequately.”

He added: “Our procedures have been irritatingly slow.”

He was met with sighs when he claimed that when party General Secretary Jennie Formby was appointed in 2018, she “shook up the process”.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn has said with Ms Formby’s appointment and new rules on antisemitism, the party has become better at dealing with reports.

Richard Levin, one of those who walked out, said: “When is he going to be accountable?”

“Tonight I was hoping our MP, who I have emailed multiple times with no response, would answer some questions directly from the audience.

“I wanted to ask why he hasn’t followed the brave route of Luciana Berger in leaving the Labour party. It is irrelevant that he is also Jewish, he knows the issues but yet he stands

there.”

Mr Levin said that he now doesn’t know who he will vote for on Thursday.

Alexandra Myers, who also walked out, added: “I’ve lived here for all my life, now I don’t want to live here because I am frightened about what is happening.

“The party from the top down is antisemitic. Fabian said that the party wasn’t institutionally antisemitic but the EHRC [Equality and Human Rights Commission]will find differently.”

Louise Levin felt the Jewish community’s concerns were not being taken seriously because they were a small group.

She said: “We are irrelevant to him [Fabian Hamilton] because we are not a large enough community to make an impact in the election.”

But Mr Hamilton said: “There is antisemitism rearing its ugly head everywhere in society, in every political party”.

However, he tried to make it clear that he had raised the issue with the Labour leadership.

This claim was met with shouts of “nonsense” from members at hustings.

But Mr Hamilton said: “You can mock if you want [...] would you rather there be no Jewish members left in Labour?”

Mr Hamilton quoted the Chief Rabbi, the leader of Britain’s orthodox Jews, Ephraim Mirvis, commenting that it is good to be Jewish in Britain.

Mr Hamilton has signed up to the Jewish manifesto created by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The Brexit party candidate, Inaya Iman said: “Antisemitism is abhorrent. Those at the top level need to do more to combat antisemitism.”

While the Green party candidate, Rachel Hartshorne, acknowledged the tense situation but added that it was “great to see so many people out representing their community”.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Jon Hannah said that one of his proudest moments as a Lib Dem was throwing out antisemitic members and taking Ms Berger, the former Labour MP, into the party.

“I could not stand by if we were to completely ignore them and that is what Jeremy Corbyn and his party have done.

“I will eat my hat if the EHRC do not find Labour to be antisemitic.”