Sad to hear of the death of my colleague Gerald Kaufman, the longest serving MP in this Parliament. The quantity and breadth of tributes to him have underlined the huge mark he made made in the Labour Party, in the House of Commons and to British politics as a whole.
I got to know Gerald through our shared commitment to the cause of justice for the Palestinians. Gerald was a a proud Jew and a Zionist who passionately believed in the creation of an Israel living in peace with its neighbours and one which embodied the social democratic principles he held dear throughout his life. He would often talk of the conversations he had in the 60s with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Yet those same principles meant Gerald always believed Palestinians have no fewer rights to self-determination than Israelis have. It was those same principles that motivated the anger he felt about how the policies of successive Israeli Governments have systematically prevented those rights being realised.
To say he was outspoken in his criticism of the Governments of Sharon, Barak, Olmert and, most recently, Netanyahu would be the understatement to end all understatements. In recent years, some of the language he used to express that anger crossed a line between criticism of Israel and what sounded like criticism of Jews more generally, prompting allegations of antisemitism. That line should never be crossed, even inadvertently, and Gerald should not have crossed it. However, I cannot accept that this son of Polish immigrants who lost family members in the Holocaust was ever motivated by antisemitism. Indeed, it was both his own Jewishness and his own Zionism that made the anger he felt towards what he thought Israel had become so profound and so personal.
My abiding memory of Gerald is, however, a much lighter one than any of this. The first conversation I remember Gerald having with me took place a few weeks after my election to Parliament in 1992. Gerald came up to me in the Lobby of the House of Commons. He asked “How are you settling in?”, “Oh fine” I replied, trying to cover up the confusion I was feeling about the many eccentricities about the way Parliament seemed to operate. “Mmmm” replied Gerald in those slow, deliberative tones for which he was famous. “There are two things you will always need to remember about this place. The first is that real life is out there, not in here,” he said, pointing to the exit. “The second is…” – he paused and then went on “that everyone here is mad. That includes me and, if it doesn’t already include you, it soon will.”
He was certainly right about where real life is. As for his second point, I could not possibly comment! Rest in peace Gerald.