An MP re­viled by com­mu­nity

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

HOW DIF­FER­ENT things might have been.

Un­der other cir­cum­stances, this week’s JC would have been packed with trib­utes to the coun­try’s old­est, and long­est-serv­ing, Jewish MP. We might have lauded Sir Ger­ald Kauf­man’s ad­mirable longevity, praised his ef­forts in the House of Com­mons over more than 45 years on be­half of fel­low Jews and joked about his quirky dress sense.

He could have been a hero of Bri­tish Jewry, an in­flu­en­tial fig­ure loved across re­li­gious and party di­vides.

In­stead, Sir Ger­ald was re­viled. The Jewish com­mu­nity’s re­sponses to his death on Sun­day at the age of 86 have been at best muted, but mostly si­lent.

Fel­low Labour MPs were gush­ing in their praise, his con­tro­ver­sies seem­ingly scrubbed from his­tory. Many of them re­ferred to him be­ing “sear­ingly sharp”; plenty said he was “funny”, “kind” and a good friend.

This for a man who racially abused a Jewish col­league on the Labour benches, and who pro­moted an­ti­semitic tropes that his party leader claims he wants to fight “with ev­ery breath”.

For years, Sir Ger­ald had been a bête noire of the com­mu­nity – a prom­i­nent Jew who spoke out re­peat­edly against Is­rael, call­ing for an arms em­bargo, sanc­tions and boy­cotts at least a decade be­fore such a po­si­tion be­came fash­ion­able.

A 2002 BBC doc­u­men­tary, broad­cast on Rosh Hashanah, in which he trav­elled to Is­rael to record his com­plaints about the coun­try, was called The End of An Af­fair and sup­posed to mark his fi­nal en­gage­ment with the topic.

But he could not stop. His con­tin­ued com­ments re­sulted in him be­ing ver­bally abused at his lo­cal syn­a­gogue and con­firmed his per­sona non grata po­si­tion in the com­mu­nity.

Lit­tle could any­one have imag­ined he would sink lower al­most a decade later. Crit­i­cis­ing Is­rael is one thing, but it was his full-blown an­ti­semitism that was truly be­yond the pale. He

com­pared Is­raeli sol­diers serv­ing dur­ing the Gaza con­flict of 2009 to the Nazis who forced his an­ces­tors to flee Poland.

His “here we are, the Jews again” com­ment when Labour MP Louise Ell­man rose to speak in the cham­ber in 2011 was not just crass, but specif­i­cally tar­geted, know­ingly full well the hurt that would – and did – fol­low.

Ul­ti­mately, it was a ca­reer which should have ended in dis­grace with Sir Ger­ald’s per­haps most out­ra­geous words two years ago. First, he claimed Is­rael used the Holo­caust to jus­tify mur­der­ing Pales­tini­ans, be­fore later claim­ing “Jewish money” in­flu­enced the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

Nei­ther of his claims brought dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, merely a slap on the wrist from Mr Cor­byn for the lat­ter al­le­ga­tion.

I last saw Sir Ger­ald in Novem­ber 2015 when I went to ask him about those views on “Jewish money”. I found him ap­par­ently asleep in his of­fice, and, af­ter wak­ing him, his only re­sponse was to tell me to “go away”. He would not, he added, be ex­plain­ing him­self to JC read­ers. De­fi­ant to the last.

A son of im­mi­grants to West York­shire, an ap­par­ent out­sider who be­came a fix­ture of the po­lit­i­cal classes — what an ex­am­ple Ger­ald Kauf­man could have set; what a legacy he could have left. How dif­fer­ent things might have been.

Sir Ger­ald with PLO leader Yasir Arafat in 1996

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