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Sir Gerald Kaufman: Should have been revered but instead was reviled


Sir Gerald Kaufman was more than just another British Labour politician. Having entered the House of Commons in 1970, he was the longest-serving MP of any political hue and, as such, gloried in the title “Father of the House”. As an Orthodox Jew, he should have been revered by the Jewish community. Instead, he was reviled. When he died in February, aged 86, not a tear of sadness touched the cheek of British Jewry.

Kaufman could barely mention the word “Israel” without invoking the Nazis, and his call for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state came more than a decade before such sentiments gained traction within the anti-Israel industry. If his loathing of Israel touched shocking depths (he once compared Hamas terrorists to Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto), his anti-Semitism was uncontrollable. When a pro-Israel fellow-Jewish Labour MP rose to speak in the House in 2011, his response was a petulant stage-whisper that rang around the chamber: “Here we go, the Jews again.”

But two memorable comments, uttered several years ago, were so outrageous they should have ended his political career. The first was his assertion in 2009 that Israel used the Holocaust to justify the killing of Palestinians; the second, in 2015, was that “Jewish money” was being used to corrupt the Conservative government. The former remark did not even draw a rebuke; the latter only a mild one.

What earned Kaufman’s immunity was not so much that his party’s leaders might have shared his sentiments but that Kaufman himself was Jewish. Which raises some tough questions. How could a Jew lend legitimacy to such canards? How could a Jew wish such harm on the Jewish state and his co-religionists? How could a Jew become so eviscerated and deracinated? How could a Jew be anti-Semitic? And, finally, how could a Jew be so self-hating?

I have had the misfortune to meet several Jews who defame Israel and express themselves in virulent anti-Semitic terms. But I have never thought of them as “self-hating”. They do not hate themselves; they only hate other Jews (indeed, most of the anti-Semitic Jews I have encountered appeared to be narcissists).

Jewish anti-Semites tend to operate on the Left of the political spectrum. And they tend to be prominent in universities, the media, non-governmental organisations and in the professions, which they often use as platforms for initiating campaigns aimed at excoriating Israel. Some adopt the tropes of anti-Semitism in an attempt to defend themselves or to deflect antagonism in environments of hostility. More commonly, though, they trade their Jewish identity for the prospect of reward — acceptance and promotion — within their professions or within their wider social circles.

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