David Hirsh

The David Miller ruling risks protecting antisemites

It is one thing to hold that political anti-Zionism, in the abstract, is protected — but quite another to say that Miller’s specific anti-Zionism is protected


David Miller

February 07, 2024 14:51

On Monday, an Employment Tribunal found that David Miller’s dismissal by Bristol University “was caused or contributed to by his own actions”, but it also found that the university had unfairly dismissed him. It said that there was a 30 per cent chance that Miller would have been fairly dismissed two months later.

The tribunal also determined that Miller’s “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified… as a protected characteristic”, were ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society”, were not “incompatible with human dignity” and did “not conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.

Miller has stated that: “To dismantle the regime, every single Zionist organisation, the world over, needs to be ended. Every. Single. One.”

To “dismantle the regime” means to dismantle the state of Israel. That means to dismantle the Jewish capacity for self-defence in Israel; to dismantle Israel’s ability to prevent more attacks like the one on October 7. Miller is aware that Israelis do not consent to any of this dismantling. In the absence of consent, Miller supports the dismantling being carried out anyway, from outside. Dismantling Israel without the consent of Israelis could only mean military conquest, of the kind that has been tried by the Arab League three times before. Nevertheless, the tribunal appears to have been rather open to Miller’s claim that he thinks his anti-Zionism can be achieved without violence:

“The claimant also made clear, when cross-examined, and we accept, that he is not and was not supportive or “open to” violence as a means of opposing Zionism.”

Much of Miller’s public writing since October 7 has supported what he calls “the resistance”, while denying that what “the resistance” actually did on that day was to murder and rape hundreds of Jews. Perhaps he believes that kidnap is a non-violent form of “resistance”.

The Zionist organisations Miller wants “ended”, if he means what he says, include Maccabi sports clubs, the Jewish schools, the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Labour movement, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), the Jewish Labour Movement, The Holocaust Education Trust, the Chief Rabbi’s Office, the CST and the Board of Deputies.

Jewish organisations have been ended before. They were ended in England (1290), in Spain (1478), in Germany (1938), and in the USSR (1918); they were ended in a number of states in the Middle East that defined themselves as “Arab” or as “Muslim”. They were also ended in Gaza, in 2005.

Miller said that Jewish students in UJS and in their JSocs, including those at Bristol who he himself taught, were used “as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime”. By calling them “assets of Israel” he encouraged people to think of students who go to their JSocs as unpatriotic traitors. And as racists: “lobbying for Israel is a threat to the safety of Arab and Muslim students… and all critics of Israel”. Remember that in Miller’s anti-Zionism, fighting antisemitism is considered to be “lobbying for Israel”.

But who was in court to make the opposite case? Which brave and learned advocates against antisemitism were there to stand up for Jews? Nobody. Which Jewish communal organisation was there to oppose Miller? None. That courtroom was a prototype of the world of Miller’s fantasy of a world in which “Zionism” had already been “ended” and in which Jews had no collective voice.

This was a fight between Bristol University and David Miller, whom it had honoured with a professorship. It had stood by him, and the conspiracy fantasy he passed off as academic sociology, for years while taking a cut of his research money, much of it from public funds. Bristol had, for years, trusted Miller with the power to shape his teaching curricula and to assess students’ work. The Tribunal is critical of the university’s sudden change of mind, for steadfastly refusing to criticise or censure Miller at all for years, but then suddenly veering straight to dismissal for conduct that it had until then defended.

Well, one might have thought that it should have been obvious to the tribunal, nevertheless, that Miller’s anti-Zionism is antisemitic. But the tribunal refused even to consider the question:

“233. We pause to note that [Bristol University] confirmed …that its position was that nothing [Miller] said or did was antisemitic or in contravention of the Equality Act…”

And then later:

“305. Although, as we have indicated, there is fault in what [Miller] did, we also remind ourselves that even on [Bristol University’s] analysis what [he] said was accepted as lawful, was not antisemitic and did not incite violence and did not pose any threat to any person’s health or safety.”

If his conduct was not antisemitic, if it was not a violation of the Equality Act, then why was he fired? Bristol said that the problem with Miller was not with his beliefs in the abstract but with his explicit identification of his own Jewish students as Zionists and therefore racists. The university also said that miller’s antizionism was “inflammatory and unnecessarily aggressive”, but what was inflammatory or aggressive about them if they were not antisemitic?

Why was Bristol University fatally afraid of accusing Miller of antisemitism? It had commissioned two internal reports from a barrister, Aileen McColgan, who had reported back that nothing that Miller had said was antisemitic. Having accepted these reports, Bristol found it difficult subsequently to say that he in fact was antisemitic, or that his threat to students, to whom he had a duty of care, was antisemitic.

Since his sacking, David Miller has made a whole stream of antisemitic programmes for the Iranian propaganda station, Press TV. Former MP Chris Williamson plays Watson to Miller’s Holmes, as they spin conspiracy fantasies about one Jew after another, one Jewish institution after another. The independent barrister who found Miller not guilty of antisemitism in Bristol’s internal process had previously represented Williamson in his unsuccessful case against expulsion from the Labour Party.

Perhaps there is another reason that Bristol refused to make the case about the relationship between Miller’s anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Perhaps it was just too hard; perhaps they were advised by lawyers who didn’t understand the importance of it, that it was a losing strategy for Bristol; perhaps Bristol just didn’t want to stand up for Jews against antisemitism.

By determining that anti-Zionism is protected, but without considering the issue of antisemitism, the tribunal risks protecting antisemites against Jews. It risks turning the Equality Act on its head, making its effect the very opposite of what was intended.

The tribunal might have accepted that political anti-Zionism, in the abstract, was protected, but what they actually did was worse; they said that Miller’s specific anti-Zionism was protected. It is worse because Miller’s anti-Zionism is significantly more clearly antisemitic than many other more mainstream forms of antizionism.

Since October 7, British Jews, as Anthony Julius has said, have been painfully aware of “a partial failure by state institutions — the BBC, the police, the universities, the Crown Prosecution Service— to meet the challenge of this antisemitic moment”.

This week many will add to that list Bristol University and the Employment Tribunal, although those of us who remember the whitewashing of the University and College Union in 2013 in the Fraser case may already have had the Employment Tribunal on their list. If we did not already have UCU on our list, we might also add it now. My union stood by Miller and treated him as a victim of Israel and its powerful Jewish agents in Britain and on his campus.

We might also add my own discipline, sociology, which provided the anonymous peer reviews necessary to get Miller his promotions and his Chair at Bristol, his major research grants and his academic publications, even though the vacuous conspiracy fantasies that he passed off as scholarship fell far short of the standard that ought to have been required.

David Hirsh is Academic Director and CEO of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Senior Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

February 07, 2024 14:51

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