The first year of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism – in the social media posts of its Academic Director and CEO, David Hirsh

I couldn’t resist posting this, last New Year’s Eve. It was the first thing we said in public about the new Centre. I think it was the first time the logo was seen:

It was an idea. We had had some discussions with possible potential funders. People were interested. But nobody wanted to fund something that was only an idea. 

We couldn’t fund something that didn’t exist; but we couldn’t build something without funding. We couldn’t get funding without a proper plan, a budget, a structure; we couldn’t plan, budget or create a structure until we had funding.

So, we said to ourselves we’ll push ahead on each front as far and as fast as we can, knowing that progress on each front depended on progress on every other front. 

This was the kind of thing we had been doing for a while, on the old Engage website: 

One aspect of what we do is to take our academic knowledge and to offer it to people in ways that can help them make sense of the world around them. This post, for example, links to a longer piece that does more of the same.

We felt it was time to institutionalize our  work in a formal Centre. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to sustain it or to replicate it in the long term if we were just individuals.

Pete Newbon, an academic, who fought alongside us, who was libelled and bullied by the antisemites, died. 

Later, I had this obit published. 

A post in response to a piece that ridiculed a university’s warning for students about 1984 being ‘triggering’. First, why 1984 really should be upsetting, if you’re reading it right. But second, and rarely noticed, how Orwell perfectl captures the totalitarian variant of antisemitism.

This is a common characteristic of antisemitism, and the way it hits people, sometimes, when they’re not expecting it. It hits Jews who think they are at home in a place, or in a social space, and it makes them not at home. It happened to me in academia. It happened to many people in Corbyn’s Labour Party. And Eve Barlow has written a lot about it. Eve talks about how the LGBTQ+ community has been so important for many Jewish people, as a home that is there for them when their families aren’t; and so how wrenching, then, is the experience of being alienated from that new home by antisemitism?

Another reason we need the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism is because people who do serious research about contemporary antisemitism are largely excluded from the academic journals and from other platforms where scholars usually publish. 

So it is a bittersweet experience to be published in the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism. We know a publication there won’t be respected for the purposes of promotion, job searches or funding. But on the other hand, the journal is a precious space we have rescued where we can indeed publish, be reviewed by our genuine peers, and have our work read. And having a major article published is always an achievement, and the pinnacle of a significant amount of research, thinking, discussion, writing, re-writing and responding to peer review. 

And we set up the Patreon site that asked for regular donations to our work. (If you want to donate today, please do so here. But we’ll come to that, in the story of the year). 

It was important to us to build a community of people around us who think of themselves as part of the London Centre, who feel that its success underpins their own security, and who want to pull together and support. Our core business is sophisticated, technical and high level academic research; it isn’t something that everyone can do a bit of. But we can’t do it without the support of a wider community of people.

And we set up a GDPR compliant mailing system so we could keep in touch with that community, and with a growing network of antisemitism scholars in the UK and worldwide. 

And then it’s Holocaust Memorial Day, and we feel the responsibility to show that some of the antisemitism that caused the Holocaust should be recognisable to people who are familiar with antisemitism today. 

And we announced the biggest and most important international conference on contemporary antisemitism since well before the pandemic.

This is important, I think. The ADL got into trouble over a definition of antisemitism that appeared to imply that antisemitism was not a form of racism. As often happens, people were denouncing the ADL from the left, and from the right. So I did a twitter thread to try and explain some of the underlying complexities. It might seem pretty straightforward. But without a lifetime of academic research and thinking behind me, I couldn’t have done it so well; or so quickly. 

And we started doing seminars. This one was a screening of a rare Soviet antizionism propaganda film; and an expert discussion of it by Izabella Tabarovsky.

Sometimes, social media is just a first draft, and is open to scrutiny and discussion.

The London Centre also needs to be about challenging open antisemitism on campus, including in the campus unions. And it’s about showing people how it might be done.

Sometimes the hostile intellectual environment manifests itself in antisemitic treatment of students:

And international networks allow us to see what’s going on in, for example, Finland:

And we remember old friends, in particular ones who were formed intellectually and politically in a time when the values of the left, and the practices of the left, at least some parts of it, precluded antisemitism. 

We need to institutionalize so that there is an institutional memory of Bongani Masuku and the way that UCU stood by him after he had been found guilty of antisemitic hate speech; and we need to institutionalize so that we have academics capable of giving expert testimony about this kind of antisemitism around the world.

And more seminars, and the video published

And we need to institutionalize so that the funding that is donated to research Jewish topics and to oppose hatred against Jews is not re-purposed for the use of antizionist professors who want to teach their students that Jews often lie about antisemitism in the hope of silencing criticism of Israel:

And we need to institutionalize a Centre of the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism so that when Vadimir Putin starts lying about who is, and who isn’t antisemitic, there are some clear sighted scholars to tell the truth:

And remembering; and teaching people what has happened in the past, so that it does not have to happen again:

And thinking through how things work in the light of new evidence:

And Alex Hearn at the Big A built a website, and Mina Kupferman gave us a look based on one of her brilliant paintings. 

And we wrote an “About” page, to try and show what we were about: 

And a “Who we are” page, to show who we are:

And a “projects” page, to offer a sketch of our proposed research agenda:

And a Board of Trustees:

And a Legal structure as an educational charity:

And a bank account, and a donation page:

We wrote a piece for the JC to explain why we need the London Centre:

And we built a YouTube channel. You can subscribe. We are currently making available for streaming videos from our September conference:

My piece, with Hilary Miller, about Durban Antizionism:

Izabella Tabarovsky’s piece, about Soviet antizionism:

And we produced more videos:

And I got denounced as a “far right white supremacist” by the person elected to speak for our students and also by the people elected to speak for my colleagues, where I work. 

When at Goldsmiths, I’m treated like that; but when I got to Israel, some of the most extraordinary and heroic human beings on the planet ask me in for a cuppa:

And then home again:

And we worked so hard on this:

And we worked so hard on this:

But then this:

And here was the full report:

And our Autumn collaborative seminar series with the Indiana Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism went well:

And there’s more to come in the Spring. 

There’s plenty more. 

But that’s not bad for the first year of our London Centre. 

Please come work with us if you’re a student or a scholar. 

Please donate, and raise money for us if you’re not.  Because we’re ambitious. We need to be in the room, and that means we need to be leading and funding research, and we need to be publishing books and journal articles. That’s proper money.

Have a great 2023,

David Hirsh

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