Harold Wilson’s support for Israel never rubbed off on Gerald Kaufman

Eric Moonman served as a Labour Party MP alongside Gerald Kaufman for nine years. Here he recalls a distinguished yet obstinate academic who mercilessly lambasted Israel and its leadership.

Gerald Kaufman was a loner. He wasn’t a part of any parliamentary group or cabal. I suspect that this was a personal decision. But also partly due to his arrival at Westminster in 1970 when he provoked some suspicion following a short spell as a runner for Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

His early background suggested that he could have followed an academic career as he distinguished himself at Leeds Grammar school and at Queens College, Oxford. Instead he chose journalism and politics, joining the Daily Mirror and later became an assistant at the Fabian Society.

Harold Wilson was a valuable ally and charted him through the various stages of the selection process. He came to Parliament and was briefly a minister as Under Secretary of State. Given Wilson’s compassion and support for Israel it was surprising that this didn’t rub off on Gerald. I remember talking to one of the Whips and he rolled his eyes, saying: “Gerald is very, very obstinate on many issues.”

So Kaufman moved up the ministerial ladder and, to his credit, was well regarded as a persistent and determined front bencher.

Gerald Kaufman

My conversations with him back then centred on a shared interest in culture and the cinema. Here he was extremely knowledgeable and wrote two books – My Life on the Silver Screen’ and ‘Meet me in St Louis’.

It was fortunate his Manchester constituency was a safe Labour seat, so he was returned without a break – thus eventually becoming Father of the House.

Yet Kaufman will be remembered by his critics, of whom there are many, for his attacks on Israeli governments both left and right. His speeches in the House on Israel were totally predictable and made little impact on those undecided on Middle East affairs. In a debate some 18 months ago in Westminster Hall, which I witnessed, it seemed he was trying to out-do even the most vehement pro-Arab members.

Gerald Kaufman lambasted Israel and its leadership mercilessly and in turn this provoked consternation among Jews here and abroad. In the many meetings I have addressed any mention of his name provokes anger and dismay. Gerald was obviously aware of such reactions and, as a committed Jew, it must have been painful.

About the Author
Eric is a former Labour Party MP
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