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Hirsh is a graduate of City University, London. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy and Social Theory and a PhD from University of Warwick. He wrote his dissertation on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law.
Hirsh won the Philip Abrams Prize for the best first book in sociology from the British Sociological Association in 2004 for his book Law Against Genocide: Cosmopolitan trials. As well as an argument concerning the significance of "cosmopolitan law", this book contains a full account of the trial of Andrei Sawoniuk in Britain in 1999 for crimes committed as part of the Holocaust in Belarus in 1942.
As a student of contemporary antisemitism, Hirsh is known for coining the term "Livingstone Formulation," after its effective use by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. In Hirsh's formulation, when an individual like Livingstone, with alleged antisemitic attitudes is confronted with this allegation, he immediately reverses the charge, accusing his accuser of "playing the antisemitic card" to stifle debate.
Hirsh is the founding editor of the Engage website, a resource for those working to understand and to oppose contemporary antisemitism. Along with several other Engage editors, he was a leading activist in the National Organisation of Labour Students during the 1980s.
Hirsh has taken a leading role in opposing the proposed boycott of Israeli universities by British academics. Hirsh told The Guardian, "It may not have anti-semitic motivations, but if you organise an academic boycott of Israeli Jewish academics but no-one else in the world, that is an anti-semitic policy."
In a heated argument with Tom Hickey of the University of Brighton at a debate in 2010, who is a leader in the campaign to boycott Israel, Hirsh claimed (after professor Mary Davis of London Metropolitan University stated she had been subject to intimidation due to her opposition to boycotts of Israel):
|“||"UCU has demonstrated repeatedly that it is simply not bothered by antisemitism if it comes packaged in the language of criticism of Israel. Jews in UCU have been bullied, have resigned, have been pushed out and have been silenced...UCU entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members."||”|
Tom Hickey subsequently denounced Hirsh, arguing that Hirsh's claims were in fact "a traducement of the truth and it's a straightforward lie and the author knows it. There has been no intimidation – the union and the chief executive would not allow it." Hirsh responded by stating:"
|“||[Hickey] said there was no intimidation in UCU notwithstanding all the examples I gave. But that explains the structure of intimidation in UCU. They don't want any debate of evidence. We are routinely accused of being liars for Israel, but I would like to hear the evidence. Is the Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (which described an academic boycott of Israel as 'anti-Jewish') a liar for Israel, or are the people who wrote letters to UCU liars for Israel? The structure of intimidation is that we are 'liars for Israel' and that's a really serious problem."||”|