Gerald Kaufman - Biography
Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman (born 21 June 1930) is a British Labour Party politician, who has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since 1970, first for Manchester Ardwick, and then subsequently for Manchester Gorton. He was a government minister during the 1970s, and a member of the Shadow Cabinet in the 1980s.
Born in Leeds to Jewish parents, who came from Poland before the First World War,the son of Louis and Jane Kaufman, he was the youngest of six children. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School, and graduated in philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford (Queen's College) where he was Secretary of the University Labour Club. He was assistant general secretary of the Fabian Society from (1954–55), a leader writer on the Daily Mirror (1955–64) and a journalist on the New Statesman (1964–65). He was Parliamentary Press Liaison Officer for the Labour Party (1965–70), and eventually, a member of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's informal "kitchen cabinet".
In the 1955 general election Kaufman had unsuccessfully contested the safe Conservative seat of Bromley, and in the 1959 general election, Gillingham.
He became a writer, contributing to the satirical television comedy programme on BBC Television, That Was The Week That Was in 1962 and 1963, along with many other names, where he was most remembered for the "Silent men of Westminster" sketch.
In 1999, he was chairman of the Booker Prize judges.
Member of Parliament
Kaufman was elected MP for Manchester Ardwick at the 1970 general election and has represented the Manchester Gorton constituency since the 1983 election. He was a junior minister throughout Labour's time in power from 1974 to 1979, first in the Department for the Environment (1974–75) under Anthony Crosland, then in the Department of Industry under Eric Varley (Minister of State, 1975–79). He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1978.
In opposition, Kaufman was the Shadow Environment Secretary, (1980–83), Shadow Home Secretary (1983–87) and Shadow Foreign Secretary (1987–92).
He famously dubbed the Labour Party's left-wing 1983 election manifesto "the longest suicide note in history". In 1992 he went to the back benches and became Chair of what was then the National Heritage Select Committee.
He chaired the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport formerly the Select Committee on National Heritage, between 1992–2005, and was a member of the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), between 1980–92, of the Labour Party National Executive Committee, from 1991–92, and of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform, in 1999.
As Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Kaufman's style of strong cross-examination and withering remarks to witnesses gained some renown. They are evident in particular when he alleges cultural elitism. In 1997 in committee Kaufman criticised the then Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House Mary Allen over her inability to account for cost over-runs of a costly lottery funded refurbishment of the venue that would result in both fewer seats and the costly cancellation of scheduled performances, and condemned her low public standards – an event that contributed to her tendering her resignation.
Kaufman has only once voted against the Labour Whip - on the provision in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to introduce an extra requirement in the process for private prosecutors seeking to obtain an arrest warrant for "universal jurisdiction" offences such as war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity. He voted with the government on the 2003 invasion of Iraq saying in Parliament "Even though all our hearts are heavy, I have no doubt that it is right to vote with the Government tonight".
He was awarded a knighthood for services to Parliament in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2004.
On 25 May 2010, during the Queen's Speech debate, Kaufman accused the Liberal Democrat candidate for his constituency during the 2010 election, Qassim Afzal, of running "an anti-Semitic, and personally anti-Semitic, election campaign" in Manchester Gorton.
Parliamentary expenses scandal
Kaufman was involved in the 2009 UK parliamentary expenses scandal, where a number of British MPs made excessive expense claims, misusing their permitted allowances and expense accounts.
Kaufman was found to have claimed £115,109 in additional costs allowances on his London flat between 2001 and 2008, and submitted a claim for three months' expenses totalling £14,301.60 in June 2006, which included £8,865 for a 40-inch LCD television and £1,461.83 for a luxury rug imported from New York City (plus £389.91 in customs expenses), which violated regulations forbidding claims for luxury furnishings. He blamed his self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder for his claims, and also said that his condition led him to purchase a pair of Waterford Crystal grapefruit bowls on his parliamentary expenses. Between 2005 and 2007, Kaufman claimed £28,834 for home improvements. He was subsequently summoned to the Parliamentary Fees Office to explain these claims, and in the end was paid £15,329. He also claimed £1,262 for a gas bill that was £1,055 in credit. His claims for food between 2004 and June 2008 were £19,200, close to the maximum allowed. He was also challenged over regular claims for "odd jobs", which he submitted without receipts at a rate of £245 per month, then £5 below the limit for unreceipted expenses, to which he replied by asking why these expenses were being queried.
Kaufman is the writer of books and articles. Some are political – How to be a Minister (1980), is an irreverent look at the difficulties faced by ministers trying to control the civil service, in much the same vein as the television series Yes Minister. Some are cultural – Meet Me in St Louis is a study of the 1944 Judy Garland film. He contributed a chapter about John Hodge Labour Member of Parliament for Manchester Gorton elected in 1906, to Men Who Made Labour, edited by Alan Haworth and Diane Hayter.
Kaufman is an outspoken opponent of hunting with hounds. In 2004 he was assaulted by a group of pro-fox hunting campaigners and claimed that he was subjected to anti-Semitic taunts. These he said he found ironic as he had recently been accused of being a self-hating Jew by member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Criticism of Israel
Kaufman is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Poale Zion, a socialist group with the Labour party in Britain, has become one of the leading critics of Israel. Kaufman has called for economic sanctions and an arms ban against Israel, citing the success of such measures against apartheid South Africa. In 2002, he referred to Israel as a "pariah state", and called Israel's senior politicians "war criminals."
Kaufman once publicly vowed to never again visit Israel, but in 2002 he retracted that promise to create a BBC television documentary, The End of the Affair, in which he recounted his youthful infatuation with Israel and his eventual disillusionment. Kaufman made a number of controversial arguments in the film, including that Orthodox Jews were "infesting" Jerusalem. The film aired on Rosh Hashana. Some days later, on Yom Kippur, Kaufman was abused by fellow congregants in St. John's Wood Synagogue.
In April 2002 during Israel's controversial military operation codenamed Defensive Shield, Kaufman gave a speech to the House of Commons, saying in part:
It is time to remind 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. The Jewish people, whose gifts to civilised discourse include Einstein and Epstein, Mendelssohn and Mahler, Sergei Eisenstein and Billy Wilder, are now symbolised throughout the world by the blustering bully Ariel Sharon, a war criminal implicated in the murder of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps and now involved in killing Palestinians once again.
In July 2004 Kaufman wrote an article in The Guardian newspaper, entitled The case for sanctions against Israel: What worked with apartheid can bring peace to the Middle East, in which he proposed economic sanctions against Israel.
Kaufman frequently criticized Israel for the deaths of British citizens Tom Hurndall and James Miller. In 2006, he called for the Israeli soldiers responsible to be handed over and tried in Britain, or before an international war crimes tribunal, and stated that economic sanctions would have to be considered if Israel refused to cooperate.
In January 2009, during the Gaza War, Kaufman gave a speech to the House of Commons where he stated: "The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt from Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians."
About his own family experience he said: "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town. 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 also made a comparison between Hamas members in Gaza to the Jewish resistance during World War II, saying: "The spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians. The total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that '500 of them were militants'. That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants." He said, "Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was democratically elected, and it is the only game in town. The boycotting of Hamas, including by our Government, has been a culpable error, from which dreadful consequences have followed." He also claimed that the Irgun were terrorists, and that "Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism". Kaufman urged the British government "to make clear to the Israeli government that its conduct and policies are unacceptable and to impose a total arms ban on Israel". Kaufman also claimed that it was "too late" for Israel to negotiate with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, claiming that "they could have negotiated with Fatah's previous President Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him". Kaufman also criticized Israeli settlements as "illegal", referring to Israeli settlers as "ghastly denizens".
In June 2009, he compared Israel's "oppression" of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to South Africa under apartheid and Iran. He described Iran as a "loathsome regime", but said that unlike Israel, "at least it keeps its totaliatarian theocracy to within its own borders", and that the close proximity of affluent Israeli settlers to impoverished Palestinians was more "heart-rendering" than conditions in South Africa during apartheid, as the bantustans were "some distance away from the affluent areas". He also said that Israel should follow the lead of the British Armed Forces from their conduct in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
He was the leader of a large European parliamentary delegation to Gaza in January 2009 during which he said that Israeli officials who authorized the use of white phosphorus in densely populated Gaza should be tried for war crimes. Kaufman also called the Israeli blockade of Gaza "evil".
Following the Gaza flotilla raid, Kaufman called Israel's actions "a war crime of piracy in international waters, kidnapping and murder, all in pursuit of upholding an illegal blockade on Gaza that amounts to collective punishment".
In December 2010, Kaufman criticized a proposed amendment to Britain's universal jurisdiction law seeking to prevent visiting Israeli officials from being arrested and indicted, claiming that such changes made a mockery of the British legal system. He highlighted the arrest warrant against former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for her part in the "slaughter" that took place during the Gaza War. He also claimed that British Jews were waking up to Israel's human rights violations and distancing themselves from Israel. Kaufman was berated for his statements by pro-Israel MPs. As Kaufman stressed Israel's alleged war crimes and breaches of international law, he faced even more vociferous criticism, and the Deputy Speaker of the House had to restore order. Conservative MP Robert Halfon accused Kaufman of using the bill reading for his own political agenda, and stated that his "hatred for Israel knows no bounds".
Following the 2011 Nakba Day riots, when a number of Palestinian refugees were killed during clashes with Israeli security forces as they attempted to breach Israel's borders as part of protests demanding the implementation of the Palestinian right of return, Kaufman gave a speech criticizing Israeli actions, claiming that Palestinians were "slaughtered", and said that "the way in which Israeli soldiers maltreat Palestinians is appalling".
Following the 2011 Palestinian bid for United Nations recognition and membership of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, Kaufman wrote in the following in the letters page of an op-ed in The Guardian:
President Abbas is to be congratulated on persisting in applying for Palestinian statehood at the UN, despite all the pressure and blackmail trying to force him not to. The quartet has never done anything meaningful to give the Palestinians their independence. If the US uses its veto at the security council, this will prove the smug windbag Obama to be the puppet of Aipac. The hypocrisy of those countries which vote against or abstain at the general assembly will be exposed. This brave Palestinian move will change the entire environment of the Middle East snd tell the Israelis they must negotiate meaningfully if they wish to be one of the states in a two-state solution.
Along with British MP Martin Linton, he accused the Conservative Party of being "too close" to Israel. In 2010, Kaufman said that those parts of the British Conservative party not controlled by Lord Ashcroft are controlled by "right-wing Jewish millionaires". On 30 March 2011 he was caught by a microphone in the Chamber of the House of Commons saying "here we are, the Jews again", when fellow Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman rose to speak, for which he apologised.
His publications include:
- How to Live Under Labour (1964) as coauthor
- The Left: A symposium (1966) as editor
- To Build the Promised Land (1973)
- How to be a Minister (1980) as editor
- Renewal: Labour's Britain in the 1980s (1983)
- My Life in the Silver Screen (1985)
- Inside the Promised Land (1986)
- Meet Me in St Louis (1994)