Tanya Gold

How the UK's foremost expert on Jew-hate cheered me up

The CST's Dave Rich always makes me smile, despite the hatred he wades through every single day

February 16, 2023 12:52

I meet Dave Rich in the Brass Rail salt beef bar in Selfridges. I want to meet Rich somewhere joyful, because, phlegmatic though he is, I usually find him in places that are not joyful.

The first time we met was in Brighton, at Labour Party Conference in 2017, at a meeting where antisemitism had occurred and, as I gasped — things were different then, I could still be surprised — someone said, that’s Dave Rich from the Community Security Trust (CST).

I went over and met a kindly man in a fine wool coat and was reassured that I was not mad or without hope. We walked around the Lanes for a bit — we ate too, with some other stunned Jews — and I was reminded that antisemitism doesn’t happen to just one Jew but to us all.

We are in Selfridges to talk about his new book Everyday Hate, a successor to his earlier book The Left’s Jewish Problem. It’s a great book — unusually for a book about antisemitism, it is optimistic in its way — and he is well-placed to write it.

He has worked at the Community Security Trust since 1994, first as a researcher and more lately as its head of policy. All the common hatred washes across his desk, and this gives Everyday Hate extraordinary detail and moral clarity. He traces the hatred from the gospels — “You are from your father the devil” [Gospel of John] — to the pogroms in medieval England to the libels circulated on Instagram and TikTok today. He calls antisemitism “a passion” as Sartre did: an ancient yet renewing conspiracism knotted to the world, and this is so demonstrably true I initially thought I would give Everyday Hate to every antisemite I know.

I didn’t know until I read Rich, for instance, that the Association of British Scrabble Players only removed the definition of “Jew” as “to haggle, to get the better of” from its online dictionary in 2019.

I didn’t know that our taxes partially financed the building of the Tower of London, or that Nazi votes were higher in German towns that had murdered Jews during the period of the Black Death than in those that hadn’t.

He quotes Sartre again: “the existence of the Jew [is] absolutely necessary” to explain the failures of non-Jews to themselves. Then I thought I would give Everyday Hate to every Jew I know too, to help us talk to antisemites, and ourselves.

Rich was born in Manchester and studied history and politics at the London School of Economics. Six months after he graduated, he responded to a CST advert for a researcher, which was given to his mother by a friend. “When I joined, the BNP had just won their first ever council seat in east London and Combat 18 were running riot,” he says. “There were car bombs at Balfour House. These things are always there. It can be pushed right to the margins and have no impact on daily Jewish life — which is where we want it to be — but it’s still there somewhere, and it rises and falls depending on what is going on in the rest of the world”.

We order our sandwiches, and I tell him I was obsessed by the Jewish Corbynites. It was a frightening time, and I still can’t say exactly why my gaze stayed on them. Perhaps it is internalised antisemitism: believing that Jews should know better when, as he writes in Everyday Hate, the tradition of Jew speaking against Jew is an ancient one. “It doesn’t make any difference,” he says. “There’s a vocabulary of how to speak and think about Jews you don’t like, Jews you disagree with, Jews you oppose, and Jews indulge in that the same way that non-Jews do”.

“That battle is won,” he says of the Corbyn years, and he trails off and adds, “in a way. What’s left is a dangerous residue in the broader left. That period taught a lot of people on the left how to be antisemitic who hadn’t really thought about it before because that was the battle line that was drawn to protect their leader. A lot of those people are no longer in the Labour Party, but they are in their trade unions, in academia, at their universities, and online”. But, he adds, “a lot of people now are aware of the problem and care about it and realise something needs to be done about it”.

It’s easy to forget how violently Corbyn was rejected, and this is heartening too. “Anecdotally,” he says, “a lot of a people who were involved on the doorsteps and doing focus groups in parts of the country where there are no Jews were coming back and saying, ‘people are bringing this up without any prompting and people who can’t even pronounce the word antisemitism are still managing to articulate that they are aware of it and they know it’s bad thing’.”

The sandwiches arrives. They are perfect, but the potato salad is not recognisable as potato salad, and Rich agrees.

“I do think the community should look back at that period with some pride,” he says. “As a community we found our voice. We found a lot of friends, we found a lot of unity, which is not a common thing for our community, and we found a way to articulate our concerns which reached people”. He mentions Jewish students in Bristol who saw off the appalling David Miller. “Having a political fight and winning can be exhilarating and very empowering. It can give you something long lasting — standing up for yourself”.

What Rich wants now is what is lacking: context. The story of antisemitism, he says, ought to be about antisemites: let them teach it in their own museums. There is no point in teaching the Holocaust if people don’t understand why Jews were singled out for it. There is no point in talking about antisemitism if you won’t talk about Israel: “Let’s at least face up to the fact that this wouldn’t be happening if Israel was not Jewish. It’s obvious.” Even Jews flee from the truth that the blood libel was invented in our own merrie England, and the expulsion of 1290 was the template for later expulsions. He quotes Anthony Julius, who says the English dealt with their Jewish problem in 1290. And I laugh, eating sandwiches in Selfridges, because Rich always cheers me up, and because it’s true.

Dave Rich is discussing his book at Jewish Book Week on Sunday 5 March - click here for more details

‘Everyday Hate: How antisemitism is built into our world – and how you can change it,’ by Dave Rich is published by Biteback

February 16, 2023 12:52

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