David Hirsh

The Miller defenders' letter

Miller and his defenders are forging an intellectual system which portrays the overwhelming majority of Jews and their community as a cunning, hidden, racist threat to the rest of society, writes David Hirsh

February 26, 2021 12:43

A group of academics has published a defence of Professor David Miller at Bristol University. This defence says that there are “unrelenting and concerted efforts to publicly vilify” him, that there is “prolonged harassment” of him, and that there are “well-orchestrated efforts… to misrepresent” him.

It says that his contribution to scholarship has been to expose “the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism.”

Why does Miller’s defence not specify which well-resourced network is doing the vilification, the orchestration and the harassment? The defence of Miller is written in the passive voice so that the malicious actor can remain un-named.

Miller has been accused of antisemitism by the Jewish Society at his own university - by his own Jewish students. The Labour Club and the Student Union are standing in solidarity with them. Their cause has been embraced up by the Union of Jewish Students, the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Jewish Chaplain at Bristol, many scholars of antisemitism, editorials in the Jewish press, columnists at The Times, and a broad consensus of the Jewish community, both left and right.

Miller himself is not as coy as his supporters and is happy to name the enemy: “Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere by the state of Israel and its advocates.” He says: “Israel’s lobby is busily stealing the language of Black liberation to justify ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid.” As though Jews do not have a language of their own with which to articulate the liberation for which they have yearned.

Miller’s explanation of what is going on is apparently that Israel, Jews and Jewish institutions have formed a secret conspiracy to pretend that sometimes antisemitism comes at them in the form of hostility to Israel. Miller says the reason they do this is “to give cover to Zionist activists” to advocate bloodshed. Miller says that another aim of the Zionist conspiracy is to sabotage campaigns against racism and Islamophobia in Britain. 

He is explicitly including his own Jewish students in the Bristol Jewish Society. For Miller, the very act of opposing this kind of antisemitism itself, constitutes proof of membership of the conspiracy. So I cannot agree with his academic defenders when they praise him as a scholar. In fact conspiracy fantasy is unfalsifiable and is the opposite of rigorous scholarship.

Miller is reminiscent of antisemitic “experts in the Jews” from bygone eras. He produces highly complex diagrams which purport to uncover the hidden unity of ostensibly distinct Jews and Jewish organisations. He tells Muslims that interfaith efforts function as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to smuggle Zionism, and therefore Islamophobia and racism, into mosques. It is dangerous to make chicken soup with Jews, he warns.

Miller likes to articulate his worldview clearly. Like Ken Livingstone, he enjoys chasing the logic of his fantasies all the way down the rabbit hole. But his defenders are a little more careful. They, describe Miller’s output, for example as an “honest” response to a query on “Israel-Palestine”. They say the Board of Deputies want him fired because he is “critical of Zionism”. They hope people don’t read Miller’s work but rely on their own description of it. You can assume that many of the signatories themselves have not read his work.

The Macpherson Principle states that when somebody says they have experienced racism, you should assume that they are telling the truth, and that should be the starting point of any investigation. The Miller Principle would seem to be that when Jews say they have experienced antisemitism, that is evidence that they are agents of Israel secretly trying to sow racism and Islamophobia in Britain.

In its report on Labour antisemitism, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) restated the Macpherson Principle for antisemitism. It did this because it had seen the relentless violation of the principle in the Party, under Corbyn’s leadership. EHRC stated that the assumption that Jews were ‘faking’ antisemitism with the ulterior motive of ‘smearing’ the left, itself constituted unlawful antisemitic harassment. The defence of Miller articulates this same antisemitic trope saying that Jews make allegations of antisemitism in order to ‘weaponise’ ‘the positive impulses of anti-racism so as to silence anti-racist debate’.

This explains why Miller is forced to claim that the EHRC itself has been corrupted by the ‘Israeli assault on Britain’.

Miller, and his defenders, are not just playing clever word games, they are forging an intellectual system which has the potential to be dangerous to Jews. It looks plausible but it portrays the overwhelming majority of Jews and their community as a cunning, hidden, racist threat to the rest of society. It positions Jews as a formidable block in the way of any movement which hopes to change Britain for the better.

Miller is not just an eccentric individual. He has been promoted to Professor, he brings in research money, he is published in the journals, he speaks at conferences and he teaches students. And a long list of academics is jumping to his defence. Miller is part of an antisemitic culture and he is protected by academic institutions and by the academic union.

Antisemitism is being driven out of the structures of the Labour Party but it is still present in significant layers of left wing and academic thinking. It is present emotionally, offering an object onto which people can project their own fury, fear and fantasies. Antisemitism is re-grouping in academia, not least around the campaign against the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which it finds threatening because it suggests that hostility to Israel may, in certain contexts, be antisemitic. This campaign employs the language of free speech and academic freedom, but it aims to strip people who have the courage to speak out against antisemitism of their confidence and of any hope of institutional protection.




February 26, 2021 12:43

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