Speeches by Gerard Kaufman on Gaza, Palestine & Israel
Gerard Kaufman served as a Member of Parliament from 1970 until his death on 26 February 2017. First for Manchester Ardwick and then for Manchester Gorton. Knighted in 2004, he became Father of the House in 2015 and was the oldest sitting MP at the time of his death. Although brought up as an orthodox Jew and a Zionist he was a fierce critic of the state of Israel, much to the annoyance of his Jewish Labour colleagues who were supporters of Israel. John Mann MP for Bassetlaw, told Jewish News that “Kaufman was a disgrace to Parliament and the Labour party.” If Kaufman was alive today his critics would brand him an antisemite.
Debate in the House of Commons on Gaza, 15 January 2009
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): 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.
I first went to Israel in 1961 and I have been there since more times than I can count. I had family in Israel and have friends in Israel. One of them fought in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and was wounded in two of them. The tie clip that I am wearing is made from a campaign decoration awarded to him, which he presented to me.
I have known most of the Prime Ministers of Israel, starting with the founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Golda Meir was my friend, as was Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister, who, as a general, won the Negev for Israel in the 1948 war of independence.
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. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.
On Sky News a few days ago, 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 that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.
The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts that her Government will have no dealings with Hamas, because they are terrorists. Tzipi Livni’s father was Eitan Livni, chief operations officer of the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, who organised the blowing-up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, in which 91 victims were killed, including four Jews.
Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism. Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together with the terrorist Stern gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. Today, the current Israeli Government indicate that they would be willing, in circumstances acceptable to them, to negotiate with the Palestinian President Abbas of Fatah. It is too late for that. They could have negotiated with Fatah’s previous leader, Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him. Because of the failings of Fatah since Arafat’s death, Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006. 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.
The great Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, with whom I campaigned for peace on many platforms, said: “You make peace by talking to your enemies.”
However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever and however the fighting ends, there will still be 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and 2.5 million more on the west bank. They are treated like dirt by the Israelis, with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the Jewish population in Israel.
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. 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.
Debate on Gaza (Humanitarian Situation) in Westminster Hall, 5 February 2014
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I once led a delegation of 60 parliamentarians from 13 European Parliaments to Gaza. I could no longer do that today because Gaza is practically inaccessible. The Israelis try to lay the responsibility on the Egyptians, but although the Egyptians’ closing of the tunnels has caused great hardship, it is the Israelis who have imposed the blockade and are the occupying power. The culpability of the Israelis was demonstrated in the report to the UN by Richard Goldstone following Operation Cast Lead. After his report, he was harassed by Jewish organisations. At the end of a meeting I had with him in New York, his wife said to me, “It is good to meet another self-hating Jew.”
Again and again, Israel seeks to justify the vile injustices that it imposes on the people of Gaza and the west bank on the grounds of the holocaust. Last week, we commemorated the holocaust; 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are being penalised with that as the justification. That is unacceptable.
The statistics are appalling. There is fresh water for a few hours every five days. Fishing boats are not allowed to go out—in any case, what is the point, because the waters are so filthy that no fish they catch can be eaten? The Israelis are victimising the children above all. Half the population of this country is under the voting age. What is being done to those children—the lack of nutrition—is damaging not only their bodies and brains; it will go on for generation after generation.
It is totally unacceptable that the Israelis should behave in such a way, but they do not care. Go to Tel Aviv, as I did not long ago, and watch them sitting complacently outside their pavement cafés. They do not give a damn about their fellow human beings perhaps half an hour away. The right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) quoted the Prime Minister as saying that Gaza is a prison camp. It is all very well for him to say that, as he did, in Turkey—he was visiting a Muslim country—but what is he doing about it? Nothing, nothing, nothing!
The time when we could condemn and think that that was enough has long passed. The Israelis do not care about condemnation. They are self-righteous and complacent. We must now take action against them. We must impose sanctions. If the spineless Obama will not do it, we must do it—even unilaterally. We must press the European community for it to be done. These people cannot be persuaded. We cannot appeal to their better nature when they do not have one. It is all very well saying, “Wicked, wicked Hamas.” Hamas is dreadful. I have met people from Hamas, but nothing it has done justifies punishing children, women and the sick as the Israelis are doing now. They must be stopped.
As has been pointed out, there is a time limit for what we are talking about. The idea that things can go on, while we wait for a two-state solution, is gone. Sooner or later, the Palestinians will say, “We are dying anyhow, so let us die for something.” Let us stop that: I do not want a war. I do not want violent action, but the action that the international community takes must be imposed, otherwise hell will break loose.
Statement in the House of Commons on Israeli Teenagers (Abduction and Murder), 1 July 2014
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I commend the Minister for his balanced response. May I ask him to send the heartfelt sympathy of, I am sure, every Member in the House—very much including myself—to the grief-stricken families of these abducted and murdered youths? What has been done to them has no conceivable justification of any kind.
Will the Minister also send our sympathy to the families of the five Palestinians whom Israeli troops murdered during their search for the missing youths in a collective punishment which has involved hundreds of arrests and the looting and ransacking of houses? Nothing whatsoever can justify the murder of these Israeli youths, but it is very important indeed to see it in the context of a conflict that will go on until there is a fair settlement
Debate on motion on Palestine & Israel in House of Commons, 13 October 2014
Motion: that “the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): There are 6 million Israeli Jews. There are 1,600,000 Palestinians in Israel, 2,700,000 on the west bank and 1,800,000 in Gaza. The Palestinians now outnumber the Israeli Jews, and that is without taking into account the 5 million Palestinians in refugee camps and in the diaspora. The big difference, of course, is that the Israelis have a secure state and the Palestinians live under oppression day after day.
The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) wove a fantasy that the Jews were reunited when the state of Israel was created and that the Palestinians were split, and we have just heard again about the wickedness of Hamas—I do not condone what Hamas does, and I realise that it is a useful tool for those who wish to portray the Palestinians as divided and unreliable. His fantasy was that all was harmonious when Israel was created, but the Israelis were divided into three warring factions at that time: the Hagenah, representing the official Jewish agency; the terrorist organisation Irgun Zvai Leumi; and the terrorist Stern gang. Israel nearly broke out into civil war immediately after it was founded because Irgun insisted on having its own army in an independent state, so the idea that Israel was somehow born in a moment of paradise and that all that surrounds the Palestinians is stress and damage is a fantasy.
Where are we now? The situation was not ideal for Israel then, and it is not ideal for the Palestinians now, but divided Israel survived and survives even though it is still divided. Look at the amazing divisions in the Israeli Government, with the extraordinary extremism of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which makes the UK Independence party look like cosy internationalists, yet it is part of the Government.
The Israelis are harming the Palestinians day after day. Last week the US State Department denounced a settlement expansion of 2,600 that the Israelis are planning. Last week the new president of the New Israel Fund, Talia Sasson—Jewish and pro-Israel—denounced the expansion of settlements again in the west bank. The Israelis, with the checkpoints, the illegal wall and the settlements, are making a coherent Palestinian state impossible.
It is essential to pass this motion, because it would be a game changer. The recognition of Palestine by the British House of Commons would affect the international situation. This House can create a historic new situation. I call on right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to give the Palestinians their rights and show the Israelis that they cannot suppress another people all the time. It is not Jewish for the Israelis to do that. They are harming the image of Judaism, and terrible outbreaks of anti-Semitism are taking place. I want to see an end to anti-Semitism, and I want to see a Palestinian state.
Motion carried by 274 votes to 12.
Debate on motion on Palestine in Westminster Hall, 1 December 2014
Motion: that “This House has considered an e-petition relating to ending the conflict in Palestine”
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): We debate in cosy Westminster, with tea and muffins down the stairs and the Christmas lights coming on, so let us hear from a Palestinian friend of mine, who e-mailed me a few days ago. He said: “Clashes are daily occurrences now in Jerusalem. A week ago, things were about to calm down when a Palestinian bus driver was tortured and hanged in his bus. It instigated a lot of anger which mounted after the Israelis suggested that the man committed suicide, although Palestinian doctors who examined him produced evidence of torture on his body. As you may guess, the doctor who produced these evidence is summoned to questioning by the Shabak now.
A day after the incident, two men have committed a terrible act of killing four Jews in a synagogue near where the incident took place. Unfortunately, many Palestinians do not see a difference between civilians and militants in Jerusalem. They have started to consider even those who incite…the killings as fair targets even if they were civilians. And now on daily basis you hear about incidents of stabbings and lynchings all over the city. The Palestinians in Jerusalem are feeling hopeless, and since the torture and murder of the young boy Abu Khdeir in summer, clashes did not stop. More than 1,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem have been arrested in the past 4 months. Houses, especially in Silwan, are being captured by settler groups. Family houses of Palestinians taking part in any of the stabbing or killing incidents are being demolished, or will be demolished. Israeli officials and Israel police officials have given public orders to their men to execute any Palestinian who is involved in any incident on the spot.
This situation will only escalate. I’ve never seen that amount of fear and despair among Palestinians in Jerusalem before. Economic situation is on the low, settlement movement escalating, attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque is on the rise, and no one sees any hope. So I’m afraid that this will lead to the escalation of desperate acts. And more citizens will be seeking vengeance on their own and as they see fit.”
This is a man who is living it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a living hell. We rightly talk about the horror of Gaza, on which the Israelis have imposed a total blockade. After killing 2,000 people and demolishing huge amounts, they are not permitting any real rebuilding. We pay too little attention to what is going on in the west bank and East Jerusalem. It is a living hell for the people who dwell there and want to live peaceful, decent lives. We are doing nothing about it. We get clichés from the Government. We get minor condemnations, but nothing is being done. Barack Obama could have backed up John Kerry when he made a proper effort to bring peace about, but he sat in the background.
Grahame M. Morris: My right hon. Friend is, as always, making an excellent contribution, but does the lesson of history tell us anything? When George Bush senior applied economic sanctions in 1990, that led to some progress at Madrid and at Oslo.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. You cannot appeal to the Israelis’ better nature, because they do not have one. You can, however, threaten them financially. When £10 billion of loan guarantees were withheld by George Bush senior, the Israelis scuttled off to Madrid. It is only sanctions and an arms embargo that work. The anticipation of a two-state solution, which we all support as a cliché, is bogus, because there will not be a two-state solution. The Israelis have the fourth largest military force in the world and nuclear weapons. They believe that they can get away with anything, but they had better take a look at how the Berlin wall fell. They had better take a look at how apartheid in South Africa crumbled overnight. They had better take a look at how peace was brought about in Ireland. They do not have time on their side. There are now more Palestinians than Israeli Jews—
Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): Order.
The question was put and agreed to.