Sir Gerald Kaufman
Maverick Labour MP who described Israel as a “pariah state”
VETERAN MP Gerald Kaufman, who has died aged 86, stoked up more than his 47 years as Britain’s longest serving MP. His incendiary view of Israel as a “pariah state” infuriated Jewish leaders. Kaufman — who pronounced his name Korfman — compared Israel’s military response to Palestinians to that of the Nazis who drove his own family out of Poland. In 2012, he said: “I find it degrading that the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust should be used as a kind of justification for persecuting Palestinians.” Yet as Anglo-Jewry seethed, he remained unfazed.
A dapper figure in pastel or broad, pin-striped suits, Kaufman had not always run against the Jewish grain. In his younger days, he joined the Jewish Labour movement (Poale Zion) and, in the early 1970s, he was a close friend of former JC editor William Frankel, even celebrating a family Seder night with him.
Born in Leeds, the youngest of the seven children of Polish-Jewish refugees Louis and Jane Kaufman, he won a scholarship to Leeds Grammar School, and graduated from Queens College, Oxford, with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.
Between 1954-55 he was general secretary of the Fabian Society. A socialist from his early days, he chaired the University Labour Club, but, as a Labour candidate, he failed to take Harold Macmillan’s Bromley seat in the 1955 General Election, nor Gillingham four years later. He turned to journalism, first as a leader writer on the Daily Mirror, until 1964, then on the New Statesman, edited by Richard Crossman.
In 1965, he became Labour’s parliamentary press liaison officer, then political press officer and speech writer in Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s “kitchen cabinet.”
In the early 1960s, he contributed to the BBC’s landmark political satire That Was the Week That Was. With Labour out of power at his personal peak, he never achieved full cabinet rank. Colleagues who found him “unclubbable” also considered his anti-Israel views would have made him an awkward figure at the Foreign Office.
His books included the irreverent How to be a Minister in 1980, and Meet Me in St Louis, referencing Judy Garland’s 1944 film, and he chaired the Booker Prize in 1999. A cinema fan since his childhood, his memoir My Life in the Silver Screen was published in 1985.
Kaufman was elected MP for Manchester Ardwick at the 1970 General Election. He was a junior minister in the Department of the Environment in the 1974-9 Wilson government, followed by Industry, where he eventually became Minister of State. He held shadow positions under successive leaders.
Kaufman switched to the safe Manchester Gorton seat in the 1983 election following boundary changes. Reelected to the Commons in 2015,with a 24,000 majority he became Father of the House, holding his seat until he died.
Kaufman opposed fox-hunting and faced antisemitic taunts in 2004 from pro-hunting lobbyists, while being labelled a self-hating Jew at the same time. He was knighted that year for services to Parliament.
He defied the Party whip on July 20, 2015, with 48 other Labour MPs, voting against the government’s Welfare Reform Bill, with its massive cuts.
He reluctantly supported Tony Blair on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and fell foul of the 2008 expenses scandal, having submitted a £8,000 claim for a TV set.
His personal Jewish beliefs were unswerving. In 2012, he helped reject a proposed bill forcing kosher meat to be labelled “killed without stunning.” “I am an Orthodox Jew and I was brought up in a household where only kosher meat was eaten,” he said, adding: “Large numbers of Jews would be very greatly distressed if (this bill) were to become law.” A family statement on his death contained a veiled warning to Labour: It said Kaufman believed “policy and principle without power were simply not enough to deliver the better life that he fought for on behalf of his constituents for most 50 years.”
He did not marry and is survived by two nieces and four nephews. GLORIA TESSLER