Over 150 members of Leeds Jewish community attended the Leeds Jewish Representative Council’s Parliamentary hustings on Sunday April 19 at the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue, Street Lane. There, in a debate chaired by Sue Baker MBE, they seized the opportunity to cross-question candidates from the five main UK political parties on their commitment to Jewish concerns.
Conservative candidate for Leeds North East, Simon Wilson, argued that his party’s support for faith schools such as the new Leeds Jewish Free School – as well as its commitment to security – should provide grounds for Jewish community support.
Fabian Hamilton, Wilson’s opponent counted that the Labour party had demonstrated its commitment to the Jewish community by establishing Holocaust Memorial Day and pointed out that he was a founder member of the all-party Parliamentary group on British Jews, established by the Board of Deputies.
UKIP candidate, Warren Hendon, defended his party’s position on shechita, claiming that his party’s election manifesto made their support for religious slaughter “unequivocal”, while accepting that earlier statements on the issue suggesting otherwise had been “a mistake”.
Martin Hemmingway, representing the Green party in the Morley and Outwood Parliamentary constituency, said he could sign up to seven of the Board of Deputies’ ten commitments but was unable to commit to defend shechita, Brit Milah or Israel. Aqila Choudhry for the Lib Dems was more positive and made the case for a negotiated two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, arguing that Jews and Muslims should work together to promote peace.
The moment of greatest tension came when Wilson was challenged over his party’s commitment to give Housing Association tenants the right to buy, with Leeds Jewish Housing Association chair, Kate Pearlman-Shaw, telling him that the policy would “be the death knell for small housing associations” such as hers. Wilson responded by saying the policy needed further thought and said that personally he would vote for an exemption for faith-based associations, if elected.
Challenged by the Board of Deputies representative to commit to joining their respective Friends of Israel groups and, if elected, the all-party group on British Jews, all the candidates said they would sign up, except for Hemmingway, who said “he was not a joiner”.
Speaking after the meeting, BoD representative Ben Rich said: “the turnout by both candidates and community members demonstrates the huge value of such events. I believe the BoD’s General Election Manifesto provided an excellent basis for setting out Jewish communal concerns and interests to all the parties’ representatives. I hope other communities will follow Leeds excellent example,” he urged.
The hustings were organised by LJRC Board of Deputies member, Laurence Saffer.