Gerald Kaufman Tribute

There are two kinds of politician worth knowing: those of conviction, and those of savvy. The former paid tribute to the latter this week, using a word I had to look up. Jeremy Corbyn called Gerald Kaufman “an iconic and irascible figure” after the father of the House died Sunday, aged 86.

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Irascible – ‘easily angered’ – Corbyn chose the right word. Maybe he remembered the time in Beirut in 2011 when Gerald’s irascibility was aroused by a restaurant having run out of ice cream. With a black cloud hanging over Gerald’s head, other members of the group tried to pacify Kaufman, leader of the delegation and somebody for whom we were happy to make special dispensations. Nothing was working and the mood around the table was heavy, but Corbyn had sneaked out and returned from the Corniche with ice creams for everybody.

Gerald’s irascibility was also deployed for just causes. Arriving at the Palestinian-Jordanian border in 2010, a British-Palestinian member of our delegation was detained by the Israelis. Gerald refused to proceed without our friend, offering no compromise to the Israelis, and fiercely argued his way up the chain of command until he found somebody with the power to yield to common sense.

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The conditions at Lebanon’s refugee camps shocked everybody on the 2011 delegation, and it was Gerald who expressed this most succinctly in this article published by Urban Dandy.

“Bourj al-Barajneh is the worst single place I have ever seen, with children haunting narrow gullies with sewage flowing down the middle; with no legitimate electricity supply, with tangled wires from bootlegged electricity hanging so low in the alleys as to constitute a near-mortal hazard. Yet 20,000 are doomed to live out their lives there, from childhood to old age, in a tiny area that has more people per square kilometre than Hong Kong or Mumbai”.

Gerald saw it as a politician’s responsibility to do their utmost to reduce human suffering and degradation. He was unflinching in his intolerance of injustice and cruelty, however powerful the wrongdoer. He was aided in his pursuit of justice by a remarkable talent with words and an ability to deploy them unerringly.

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In Hebron. Photo: AFP

At a meeting with the UN in the West Bank, the room was too hot and Gerald drifted off to sleep. I nudged him repeatedly but he would drift off again, missing most of the presentation. Being the leader of the delegation, Gerald was to give feedback on behalf of the group. I exchanged nervous glances with a fellow organiser, but to our relief Gerald awakened and responded to the presentation with a series of apparently well thought out points that went to the heart of the issue, expressing his gratitude to our host and making everyone in the room question whether they had really just seen this 80-year-old man having a nap.

“Do you remember one phrase used by a Labour frontbencher since 2010?” Gerald asked me before the last election, and in that question he summed up a major problem that Blair, Brown and Miliband have created; a set of MPs that lack what Gerald had in spades: gravitas.

He was a great writer, with careers as a satirist, journalist, columnist, speech writer, phrase-maker and author. It was he who described Labour’s 1983 manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Gerald held Ministerial positions in the departments of Industry and Environment, and we can only speculate about how he would have dealt with the Israeli government had he become Foreign Secretary in 1987. The sycophantic grovelling of successive Tory and Labour governments would surely have been dispensed with:

The Israel lobby didn’t know what to do with Gerald. He made plenty of controversial statements about Jews and “Jewish money” but when faced with stinging criticism for his remarks, he was memorably nonchalant: “I can’t remember every comment I mutter under my breath”.

Gerald could not be dragged into the distraction of the Israel lobby’s games, life had too much more to offer him. He wouldn’t care what they are saying about him now. He was a man of hilarious anecdotes and dry Yorkshire wit, as charming with those he liked as he was ferocious with those he considered fools. His London flat was a shrine to Hollywood musicals; he loved them “because they’re beautiful”. He also loved literature, television, fashion and people; he was a dandy, a charmer, belligerent and brilliant, I will miss him.

Sir Gerald Kaufman, 21 June 1930 – 26 February 2017

 

By Tom Charles

Charlie and the Fear Factory

O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise each other – Verse 49:13, Surat I-hujurat (The Dwellings) The Holy Qur’an

The terrifying events in Paris last week have been pounced upon by the political mainstream and many social media users to declare commitment to freedom of speech and vilify Muslims and Islam.

People in Britain have taken to social media to express solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo magazine. ‘Je Suis Charlie’ they say, but had you heard of this magazine before last week? People who have surely never read the magazine are so profoundly moved that not only are they willing to declare sympathy, but en masse have declared that they are in fact Charlie Hebdo.

World leaders flew to Paris to jostle for position at the front of a solidarity rally. Our war mongering, arms selling Prime Minister was there, a man who once ordered the Guardian to destroy hard drives containing information given to them by Edward Snowden.

And there too was the prima facie war criminal Binyamin Netanyahu, a man with the blood of thousands of Palestinian innocents on his hands, whose own government cracks down on free speech within its own borders and in the territories it occupies. Surreally, along from Netanyahu was Mahmoud Abbas, presumably the most uncomfortable man in Paris that day, marching alongside a man unquestionably responsible for the deaths of over 500 children in Gaza last summer during Israel’s ongoing infanticide.

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Credit: AFP

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The list goes on and the point is that these leaders are demonstrably indifferent to the sanctity of life and freedom of expression.  What they are interested is pushing their own agenda, an agenda of fear and perpetual war that does not benefit the majority of people now proclaiming to ‘be’ Charlie.

Charlie Hebdo magazine is part of a mainstream political culture that increasingly seeks to vilify and marginalise Muslims and Islam, failing to provide details of the context in which events take place. The cartoons they published were knowingly offensive and deliberately blasphemous. Why? Political satire should empower the weak and maligned, not target them.

To support freedom of expression is one thing, but widespread support for a racist, Islamophobic publication is something else. The right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility not to deliberately attack, disgust and provoke ordinary people.

Muslims are the biggest victims of terror in the world today. Not one government represents a majority Muslim country with any distinction and most are dictatorships that act to shore up American economic ambitions. One of the biggest killers of Muslims is US President Obama, who is in charge of the broadest terror campaign in history; the US drone programme.

And the geopolitics of all of this violence affects us here in London. Our politicians, like the murderers in Paris last week have much to gain by dividing us. Both of these groups, who rely on violence for their power and status, are opportunistically seizing on events in Paris to recruit people to their cause and maximise their own power and control. Muslims will be the primary victims of this. Muslims are a minority, an easy target. The mainstream media constantly, daily links two words: ‘Muslim’ and ‘terror’. Slowly but surely these ideas are being internalised and normalised and this is the real threat to our freedom.

Islam is a religion of peace and grace, from which we can learn so much about our common humanity. It never has been and never will be our enemy. The real enemy remains those who seek to disseminate violence, terror and division. They have to work tirelessly to divide us.

The historical precedents are too obvious to mention; in 2015, let’s make sure we embrace our glorious diversity so that we may know each other, not despise each other. The choice is ours.

 

by Tom Charles

Unknown Hell – Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

Pic at Bourj al Barajneh camp, Beirut, which inspired the title 'Unknown Hell'. Graffiti in foreground is of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
 

In February 2011 a group of British Labour MPs joined a Parliamentary delegation to Lebanon, home to 400,000 Palestinian refugees. They live in hell, but it is never mentioned in the mainstream media. Click here to read the findings of Gerald Kaufman, Michael Connarty and Jeremy Corbyn.

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