Born in Leeds, UK, in 1930, Gerald Kaufman was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School and received his B.A. at Queen’s College, Oxford. In 1954 Kaufman worked at the Fabian Society, a prominent socialist group, and a year later joined the Daily Mirror where he was a journalist from 1955 to 1964. He then worked for one year at the New Statesmen before becoming the press adviser of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a post he held until 1970. In 1955 and again in 1959, Kaufman ran unsuccessfully for the British Parliament. He ran yet again in 1970, this time winning the Manchester Ardwick seat. When the Ardwick district merged with Gorton in 1983, Kaufman was elected to represent the newly formed district; he would hold that seat for the next 25 years.
During his tenure in Parliament, Kaufman held a variety of prestigious positions. From 1974 to 1975, he served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment; in 1975, Under-Secretary for the Department of Industry; from 1975 to 1979, Minister of State for the same department; and Privy Councilor in 1978. Throughout the 1980s, Kaufman served the Shadow Cabinet as opposition spokesman for the environment, home secretary, and foreign secretary. In 2004 he was awarded a knighthood for his service to Parliament.
Although Kaufman was critical of the Labour Party in the 1980s as a “hostage of the hard Left” and famously termed the party’s 1983 socialist election manifesto “the longest suicide note in history,” he became known for his extreme political rhetoric. In a 1988 House of Commons speech, Kaufman called Margaret Thatcher “the handmaiden of apartheid” and “the world’s most effective ally of apartheid.”
In the first decade of the 21st century, Kaufman’s anti-Israel vitriol came to define his politics. In a 2002 speech before the House of Commons, he called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “a war criminal,” claiming that Sharon’s “actions are staining the star of David with blood.” He based his claim largely on the Jenin blood libel, alleging that Israeli forces massacred Palestinians, although United Nations investigators could find no evidence that such a massacre had ever taken place.
In 2004 Kaufman spoke at a meeting organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at the House of Commons; he also wrote articles for the Guardian in which he called for Britain to impose sanctions and a weapons ban on Israel because “such a policy [had previously] brought down apartheid in South Africa.” Kaufman has worked in conjunction with the Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a group attempting to boycott Israel; he also helped to raise money for Medical Aid for Palestinians. In 2003 he journeyed to Ramallah to meet Yasser Arafat “in the bunker where he was incarcerated” – and in 2005, he led the first parliamentary delegation to the Palestinian Authority. That same year, Kaufman claimed that Israel’s “Gaza withdrawal [was] a veil for continued persecution and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” and that “ordinary, decent Israelis […] have no idea of the persecution of Palestinians being carried out in their name.”
On January 15, 2009, Kaufman gave the speech before the House of Commons that mired him in controversy. He began his address with an account of his Jewish heritage and the murder of his grandmother by Nazis:
“My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the holocaust. 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. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.”
Kaufman continued with the Nazi comparison:
“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.”
Reiterating his longtime call for “a total arms ban on Israel,” Kaufman concluded his speech by deriding the Israeli government: “They’re not simply war criminals; they’re fools.”
Kaufman died on February 26, 2017 in Leeds, Britain