Some thoughts on antisemitism in academia, May 2021 – David Hirsh

I want to articulate my concern over what I believe amounts to antisemitic loyalty tests that are circulating far and wide amongst academic colleagues. I believe they construct antisemitic, hostile environments for both staff and students. 

They all say fundamentally the same thing:

This is foundational to our scholarship and to our morality:
1. Israel is apartheid
2. BDS
3. Smash Israel
If you don’t agree, you’re not a scholar and you’re not moral. 

This is the simplest form: Tweets with “pass it on”:

This one is endorsed not by individuals but by departments and centres.

It constructs the following views as being foundational to gender studies and also to personal morality. If you don’t affirm them, you’re not a proper gender scholar, and you’re not a proper person:
1. We do not subscribe to a “both sides” rhetoric
2. Israel is apartheid
3. [This understanding of] feminist anti-racist, and anti-colonial activism … informs the foundation of our interdiscipline
4. Palestinians are indigenous, Israelis are settler-colonialists
5. “Palestine is a Feminist Issue”
6. Palestinian right to return
7. “we will not tolerate any censorship of nor retribution against Palestinian scholars” – this is code for institutions taking antisemitism seriously
8. “the Palestinian people … remain united in their demands to end their oppression”This creates a hostile environment for Jews who work and who study in these departments and centres. The official policy of these centres is that people (most Jews and their allies in the fight against antisemitism) who do not subscribe to these principles are not genuine feminists, scholars or moral human beings.

Here are more, but they’re all over the place:



This next one is pathetic – in the genuine sense of the word. Jewish Studies scholars put out the “Jerusalem Declaration” to try to discredit IHRA and offer an alternative. JD offers a deal to the antisemites: ‘If you allow us Jews to stay in the community of the good, then in return, we’ll kosherize you as not antisemitic.’

These loyalty testers respond: “no.” Kosherizing elements of our antisemitic discourse as not antisemitic isn’t enough. You have to affirm our antisemitic positions. That’s the test. This is a real test for the predominantly Jewish profs behind the Jerusalem Declaration. Some of them won’t be able to pass the loyalty test, some will. But whether they then understand what has happened, whether then understand the hostile environment they have been key to legitimising, is another question.

CST always says that when there’s conflict in the Middle East, antisemitic incidents spike. This has been happening now. It seems to me that a key response to this is to insist that people who build the antisemitic common sense, and schoarly discourse, cannot be allowed just to condemn the attacks. They have to be held responsible for the demonizing discourses by which people feel licensed to treat Jews as demonic.

UCL put out a statement against antisemitism, in particular antisemitism against its own students, on campus.
UCL staff put out a statement protesting against that statement.

We published this article many years ago, by Steve Cohen, who wrote “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic”. He was responding to a decision to boycott Israeli scholars ‘“a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from” Israeli governmental policies’. it makes the point that loyalty tests, making Jews grovel, are specifically hostile in relation to Jews.

One more thing. I am seeing, more and more, Muslim antisemites, or antisemites who are assumed to be Muslim, being racialized by right wing anti-foreigner and racist discourse. There is a lot of this in London, focused on the Mayor, also focused against Priti Patel the Home Secretary, who is of African Asian Hindu descent. But many on the the far right are saying about antisemitism: “Look at these uncivilized backward Muslims, they have no place in our society”. One implication is that “we” should deal with “our” Muslims like the tough Israelis deal with theirs. Which, itself of course, shares the left wing demonizing discourse of Israel, but puts a positive spin onto it.  I think racists tagging on to opposition to antisemitism is a significant phenomenon. Of course some racists, like David Irving, hate the Jews more than they hate the Muslims.

To clarify the point about the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: I’m not at all saying he is antisemitic. Indeed he has made a great effort to say the right things on antisemitism and to make connections and take advice from the Jewish community. So as much as any Labour member who remained in the party through the Corbyn leadership, he’s got a good record. Having said that, there are issues from his past, and his work as a lawyer before going into politics, which relate to some antisemitic politics. But most people would judge, I am one, that his record as mayor is good. 

My point was that in spite of his actual good record, there is a tendency for him to be racialized as being symbolic of, and supportive of, the worst of the Palestine solidarity movement. By which I mean, the antisemitic aspect of it. Or to use his formal responsibility for law and order in London as a hook to pull him into responsibility for the antisemitic hate crimes. He’s presented as being symbolic of the Muslim take over of Britain. 


1. loyalty tests are coming – they create toxic, antisemitic, hostile environments for Jews – colleagues and students – but this will also arise in other professions and in other institutions and communities.

2. two states and talk of peace and coexistence are now prohibited within most Palestine Solidarity discourse

3. The position of Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, and Centres for the study of antisemitism – the spaces from which the “Jerusalem Declaration” emerged – is very difficult now.

4. opposing antisemitism is constructed as a Trumpist/Zionist plot to destroy academic freedom and to silence criticism of Israel. The Livingstone Formulation.

5. The far right constructing antisemitism as a foreign, Muslim, immigration, problem of the ‘backwardness’ of Muslim and other ethnic minorities – this will be true of anti-black racism too, I suspect particularly in America, but I haven’t seen much of that.

How the slogan ‘Free Palestine’ can function as an antisemitic dog whistle – David Hirsh

I want a “Free Palestine”. I want it very much, I want it genuinely, I want it because it’s right and because many Palestinians who suffer absolutely deserve it; but also because it would be good for Israel, because it would be good for the whole Middle East, because it would be good for democratic politics and culture everywhere. 🇵🇸

I also believe that the slogan “Free Palestine” can function as an antisemitic dog whistle. Both. What is a dog whistle? It makes a sound that only dogs can hear.

In politics, a dog whistle is an element of rhetoric that a particular constituency will hear and understand in a particular way, while other people watching might hear or see nothing significant or wrong. For example, Donald Trump:

“We have to have strong borders. We have to keep the drugs out of our country. Right now we’re getting the drugs, they’re getting the cash. We need strong borders. We cannot give amnesty. I want to build the wall. We need the wall. The Border Patrol. ICE. They wall want the wall. We stop the drugs. We shore up the border. My first act will be to get all of the Drug Lords, we have some bad ones. Bad Bad people in this country that have to go out. We’re going to get them out, we’re going to secure the border and once the border is secured at a later date we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get ’em out.”

There are ways of reading that text in which it is entirely both true and innocent. In the abstract. In and of itself.I’m writing now for the people who can judge that in the context of the 2016 Presidential election, this speech was racist. I’m one of those people. Other people can scroll on. There are other posts for you.

This text is a dog whistle text. It means one thing to people who don’t know. And it means another thing to people who do know.

To racists, it’s exciting.

To antiracists, and to many Mexicans, it’s urgently and clearly threatening.

And to lots of people watching, it means that Trump wants to stop drugs coming into America.So the slogan “Free Palestine” may be, in and of itself, not only legitimate but exactly right.

Just as you might think that keeping Mexican Drug Lords out of America, who you might think are bad hombres, is also not only legitimate but exactly the right thing to do.

Personally, I’m very strongly in favour of Free Palestine. I want a free, democratic, Palestine, at peace with its neighbours.

Yet “Free Palestine” in particular contexts, can be an expression of support for the elimination of Israel.

I’m not even against that in principle, in the abstract, in and of itself. If there was a long lasting genuine peace, like there is for example between France and Germany, Israelis and Palestinians might decide to bring the border down. They might, they might not. If they do, they won’t have to deal with me denouncing them.

But this slogan is not genuinely about the elimination of Israel by consent. It is, in the world that exists, about eliminating what they say is the evil apartheid state of Israel, by any means necessary. And eliminating Israel without the consent of the Israelis could not result in a Free Palestine, it probably couldn’t be achieved at all, and if it was, it would not result in freedom but in genocide.

This is the academic work of obfuscation in which the Jerusalem Declarationists specialize.

They imagine in their minds, ‘Free Palestine’ in the whole territory, without an Israel. And they say that in the abstract, the slogan, “in and of itself”, is not “on the face of it”, antisemitic. And in the utopian fantasy which exists only in their minds, it is indeed, not antisemitic.

But, as we’ve seen this weekend, the slogan does not appear “in and of itself”, it appears in the world.

It often appears in such a way as we might judge that, guided by the IHRA principle of context, it could, according to context, be antisemitic.

When “Free Palestine” is the slogan of a gang of men who are cruising through Jewish neighbourhoods threatening sexual violence, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

And when “Free Palestine” is set up as a loyalty test for Jewish academics, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

When it is spray painted on the door of a synagogue, or on the remnant of a wall of the Warsaw Ghetto, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

When it is shouted, relentlessly, all day long, at a Jewish teacher, by pupils, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.

And then, the people who made such a point of defending a movement which aims to exclude Jews from the community, by setting up an assumption that they’re Zionists, meaning racists, are themselves partly responsible for the hostile environment they’ve helped to construct.

Academics and left wing politicos understand the concepts of ‘hostile environment’, ‘institutional racism’ and ‘dog whistle’. They invented those concepts and they live by those concepts. But when it comes to antisemitism, they play dumb, like the dumbest, most deplorable, Trump fanatic. They cling to literalist, abstract readings of texts and they refuse to contextualise those texts in the complex, material, social, world of history and of power.