London: Tributes are pouring in for veteran Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, who died yesterday at the age of 86. Sir Gerald had been suffering from an undisclosed illness. As the longest-serving Member of Parliament, Kaufman had the title Father of the House of Commons.
Although, as the BBC has pointed out, he was a “practising Jew”, Sir Gerald was also one of the most vocal critics of Israel in Westminster.
Over the decades that he was an MP, he called for sanctions against the Zionist state for its policies towards the Palestinians; described the country as being born out of Jewish terrorism; and compared the Israeli army to Nazis in the chamber of the Commons.
Prior to his election as an MP in 1970, Kaufman worked as a journalist and continued to be a prolific book reviewer. He visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on numerous occasions and published a book – Inside the Promised Land – in which he expressed his personal view of Israel and his disillusionment with the country.
“Sir Gerald dedicated his life to serving those who he believed would benefit most from a Labour government and Labour values in action,” his family said in the statement announcing his death.
Kaufman’s desire to serve others was recognised in the hundreds of tributes that have poured in since his death. It was also a driving force in his support for the Palestinian cause, which often put the MP at odds with the British establishment.
In April 2002, at the start of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield, Kaufman called Israel an “international pariah,” and accused its then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of ordering his troops “to use methods of barbarism against the Palestinians.”
The veteran politician served as shadow foreign secretary from 1987 to 1992 and said that it was “time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews and not to his repulsive government. His actions are staining the Star of David with blood.”
He urged South Africa-style economic sanctions against Israel in a 2004 Guardian article.
During the 2008/9 Israeli military offensive against Gaza – so-called “Operation Cast Lead” – Kaufman accused Israel of exploiting Holocaust guilt to justify its actions in the Palestinian enclave.
He has also compared Hamas’s fighters in Gaza to the Jewish resistance during the Second World War, making special reference to the construction of tunnels that ensured both groups’ survival.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, himself a strong critic of Israel, described Kaufman as an “iconic” figure within the party.
Sir Gerald Kaufman, politician and journalist. Born 21 June 1930; died 26 February 2017.