Gerald Kaufman, the UK lawmaker who famously compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis who murdered his grandmother, has died at the age of 86 after a long illness.
Kaufman, a Labour Party member for a constituency in the northern English city of Manchester since 1970, was the oldest member of the Commons, the UK’s elected lower house.
“Gerald was always a prominent figure in the party and in Parliament, with his dandy clothes and wonderful demeanor in speaking,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in tribute. “Gerald came from a proud Jewish background. He always wanted to bring peace to the Middle East and it was my pleasure to travel with him to many countries.”
It was undoubtedly because of Kaufman’s Jewish background that his comments drew particular ire from Israel’s surrogates – including the speech he gave in the House of Commons on 15 January 2009, more than two weeks after Israel began its bloody assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead.”
“I was brought up as an Orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in our kitchen, there was a tin box for the Jewish National Fund, into which we put coins to help the pioneers building a Jewish presence in Palestine,” Kaufman began.
“My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust,” he recounted. “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.”
“My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman went on to accuse Israeli military spokesperson Avital Leibovich of giving “the reply of a Nazi” when she said in answer to a TV interviewer that most of the Palestinians killed were “militants.”
“I suppose that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto could have been dismissed as militants,” Kaufman said.
“Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism,” Kaufman reminded fellow lawmakers, referring specifically to the notorious 1948 massacre by Zionist militias of Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin.
“It is time for our government to make clear to the Israeli government that their conduct and policies are unacceptable, and to impose a total arms ban on Israel,” Kaufman concluded. “It is time for peace, but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis’ real goal but which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals; they are fools.”
Watch the speech in the video above.
Sadly, the UK government did not heed Kaufman’s advice, and Israel launched an even more bloody attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014.
In its aftermath, Kaufman spoke in Parliament in support of a ride by hundreds of cyclists from Edinburgh to London to raise money for the Middle East Children’s Alliance to help victims recover from the Gaza attack.
He also expressed his frustration at the official lip-service paid to peace while Palestinians continued suffer.
“We rightly talk about the horror of Gaza, on which the Israelis have imposed a total blockade,” he told Parliament in December 2014. “After killing 2,000 people and demolishing huge amounts, they are not permitting any real rebuilding.”
Referring also to conditions Israel has imposed in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Kaufman called the situation “a living hell for the people who dwell there and want to live peaceful, decent lives.”
“We get clichés from the government. We get minor condemnations, but nothing is being done,” Kaufman charged.
Tony Greenstein, a long-time anti-racism campaigner and member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Brighton, recalls in a post on his personal website that he first encountered Kaufman more than 30 years ago, when the lawmaker was a “staunch Zionist.”
“Gerald was always on the right of the [Labour] party,” Greenstein writes, “but he was also a highly principled man.”
“When he saw in which direction Israel was going, because he was still attached to the memory of the earlier Labour Zionist leaders, he became active and highly vocal in his support of the Palestinians,” Greenstein adds.
In their efforts to tamp down any such support, Greenstein points out that even Kaufman had in recent years been the target of relentless accusations of anti-Semitism by Israel lobby groups.
Journalist Ben White observed that after news of Kaufman’s passing was announced, some social media users celebrated his death and denounced him as a “self-hating Jew” and a “kapo” – a term used for Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust.
Kapo is now habitually used by Zionists, including US ambassador-designate to Israel David Friedman, to demonize Jewish activists who deviate from total support of Israel’s most extreme anti-Palestinian policies.
Such abuse cannot overpower Kaufman’s voice of conscience and principled dissent.