Gerald Kaufman: A vocal and lifelong supporter of Palestinians

Gerald Kaufman: A vocal and lifelong supporter of Palestinians
A career in quotes: A look at five times that the late British MP Sir Gerald Kaufman blasted Israel or caused controversy during his 47-year parliamentary career.
4 min read
27 Feb, 2017
Once an admirer of Israel, Gerald Kaufman became on of its biggest British critics [Anadolu]
With the passing of British MP Sir Gerald Kaufman on Sunday, the UK Parliament lost its oldest and longest-serving MP.

Kaufman, moreover, was a staunch supporter of justice for Palestinians and a scathing critic of Israel.

His remarks on the matter often sparked controversy, drawing accusations from his opponents of being a "self-hating" Jew, despite Kaufman being both a practicing Jew and a self-described Zionist.

His early adoration for Israel, however, eventually turned to disenchantment due to the country's atrocities against Palestinians.

Here are five quotes from Kaufman's long and sometimes controversial career.

1. "It is time to remind [Ariel] Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews, not to his repulsive government. His actions are staining the Star of David with blood."

In April 2002, Kaufman blasted then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his government's actions in the West Bank, where a brutal military campaign was underway.

The campaign, dubbed Operation Defensive Shield by the Israeli military, resulted in the deaths of 497 Palestinians, as well as the arrests of as many as 7,000 West Bank residents.

It was also during this unsparing operation that former Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat was besieged in his Ramallah compound by Israeli forces.

2. "My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza".

Against the backdrop of Israel's war on Gaza in 2009 - which resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 Palestinians - Kaufman addressed parliament to once again speak against Israeli excesses.

"My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed," he told his fellow lawmakers.

"The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count". 

3. "It's Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party - as in the general election in May - support from the Jewish Chronicle, all of those things, bias the Conservatives".

In 2015, the MP for Manchester Gorton added to the Labour Party's anti-Semitism row by appearing to resort to some of the oldest tropes often made about Jews manoeuvring behind the scenes of power to influence government.

"There is now a big group of Conservative members of parliament who are pro-Israel whatever government does and they are not interested in what Israel, in what the Israeli government does," Kaufman argued, saying that this was the result of Jewish donations to the ruling Conservative Party.

"They're not interested in the fact that Palestinians are living a repressed life, and are liable to be shot at any time. In the last few days alone the Israelis have murdered 52 Palestinians and nobody pays attention and this government doesn't care."

In response, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Board of Deputies, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust called upon Labour to investigate his remarks.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned Kaufman's remarks as "completely unacceptable".

4. "You cannot appeal to the Israelis' better nature, because they do not have one."

Responding to a question about whether economic pressure should be applied to Israel, Kaufman controversially responded that such moves are necessary, as Israelis "do not have" a better nature to appeal to.

"You can, however, threaten them financially," he explained. "When £10 billion of loan guarantees were withheld by George Bush senior, the Israelis scuttled off to Madrid. It is only sanctions and an arms embargo that work."

5. Responding to criticism

Kaufman's uncompromising approach to criticising Israel made him the target of many personal attacks, including a verbal confrontation in a London Synagogue by supporters fox hunting.

Writing for The Guardian in 2004 about such experiences, Kaufman said:

"A stout, middle-aged man dressed in tweeds... rushed up to me and yelled: 'You Jewish bigot!' [Others] took up the man's theme, offering such observations as: 'You're an immigrant', and 'You weren't born in this country'.

"I found their anti-Semitism, though loathsome, ironically amusing, since I was - if I could get there - on my way to make a speech which would undoubtedly impel pro-Sharon Jewish chauvinists to accuse me of being a self-hating Jew and, as a lackey of the Board of Deputies of British Jews has recently put it, straying far from my Jewish roots. Those roots were, at any rate, easily apparent to the pro-hunt demonstrators."