Revolutionary now fighting antisemitism on the left

DAVID Hirsh is one of Britain’s foremost experts on antisemitism on the left of the political spectrum.

So you would think that the last few years of Labour’s antisemitism crisis would have weighed heavy on him.

And if it wasn’t for his beloved Arsenal Football Club — where he is a season ticket holder — and spending time with his family, it probably would have done.

But for the 51-year-old, the fight against antisemitism isn’t a new thing.

In fact, when the London-born author of the 2017 book Contemporary Left Antisemitism, and lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, was growing in the 1980s, he was a member of some of the most left-wing groups you could imagine — such as the Trotskyist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

“I was a proper, serious Trotskyist,” said David, who is married to Monique.

“In one sense it’s laughable, but I really did get some important political education there.

“At the time I was a member, they were really finding their way to an understanding of the problems of antisemitism on the left.

“A number of people who went on to shape how the Jewish community understands antisemitism on the left were influenced by an Irish guy called Sean Matgamna.

“He really understood antisemitism and he could see it and feel it in the Trotskyist left.

“When I think about it, the kinds of things I used to believe — such as being in favour of smashing the state — were really, really dangerous.

“Maybe because I’ve been on that side I have a clearer idea of what we’re dealing with.”

And while the son of German-born Holocaust refugee Mirjiam, who left her homeland in 1938, and East Ender Julian can openly admit that he no longer believes in certain things, the catalyst of antisemitism in Labour has not (yet) admitted that.

David explained: “Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t ever, ever account politically for the things he used to believe and do.

“He doesn’t ever say that he’s changed his mind or that he can now see something he once said or wrote was dangerous.

“He once advocated for banning a Jewish society at Sunderland Polytechnic, but rather than saying now that he is against that, he’d just bluster and waffle.

“His right-wing mirror Boris Johnson would just say ‘come on, be a little more optimistic’.

“You would get some version of that from Corbyn, and never could he or has he done a political accounting for where he’s been; why he worked for Press TV; why he was the chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign when it was crawling with antisemitism; what he said to Hamas; and the six times he’s sat there in Gaza and been hosted by them.

“He always said that he raised human rights with the Iranians — I don’t think that’s true.”

He added: “In a sense, my political past is worse than his because it was openly revolutionary, but we were never Stalinists, supported the Soviet Union or the Iranians or antisemitism.

“There is nothing wrong with having been wrong, but you have to have an honest political accounting as to why you were and how you’ve changed.”

David’s political journey took a break for a few years when he became a minicab driver.

He also spent time living on a kibbutz, before eventually returning to study at City University and then completing a PhD on crimes against humanity and international law at Warwick University.

The father-of-two, with two stepchildren, said: “My life turned around in my 30s in ways that really surprised me.

“I got a PhD, got a job, got married, had children and watched The West Wing — I thought I wasn’t able to do all of those normal things really, but I did.

“There was a moment in 2004 where I was drawn back into the political world when a motion to boycott Israel was brought to my trade union.

“I was young, confident and upbeat and wanted to deal with this boycott and win it.

“And, actually, a friend of mine — Charles Small — rang me to say it was very courageous what I was doing.

“I told him it wasn’t courageous and that it would be fun, to which he replied ‘no it won’t’.

“And he was right, it was a very unpleasant experience. We got deeper into that fight, and I felt I was quite good at making these arguments.”

He was so good in fact, that he founded an organisation called Engage, which had the aim of countering the boycott against Israel. And he still runs it to this day.

David managed to successfully reverse the boycott decision at his union, but described the time as being “very unpleasant”.

“It gets very personal, even to this day,” he explained.

“I’ve had tweets this week from people who claim to be from my own college calling me a racist, an Islamophobe and an embarrassment to the college.

“It’s unpleasant, but I live in a strange universe where I’ve also had an email from someone who heard me speak, was so inspired and wanted to talk to me about doing joint work.

“I meet people who treat me as a global expert, as well as those who treat me as some would do with Tommy Robinson.

“I get it, this happens, but it’s not pleasant and it’s personal.

“I was away with my step-daughter in Newcastle and we had a great couple of days, while I’ve got this stuff beeping through on my phone.

“I’m away with the kid and my wife and wish they would go away.

“Part of me thinks it should be water off a duck’s back, and part of me thinks I should be angry — which I am.”

The battle against antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes has developed into an online war since David first started out.

Social media allows those who wish to be antisemitic to hide behind a keyboard, virtually anonymously, and tweet antisemitic comments, as well as fake news against Israel.

But has this really changed the playing field for David?

He pondered: “The Stalinists and the Nazis managed to spread their message across Europe without the internet.

“It’s all been done before, but, having said that, it is different this time as it happens in different ways.

“You can’t blame the internet for what’s going on.”

David only cut up his Labour membership card, after 30 years, earlier this year, during the announcement that Luciana Berger MP had left the party and Change UK had been born.

Although Change UK didn’t turn out well — and has changed its name several times since — David is philosophical about the future.

He said: “There’s an old quote from George Santayane who said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, while those who do remember watch on in horror.”

On his Judaism, David admitted to not believing in God, and has experienced the religion from many different sides — Masorti, Reform, Liberal and others.

But for him, he is just Jewish, regardless of which synagogue he sits in.

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