Academic calls Bristol JSoc ‘Israel’s pawn’

EXCLUSIVE: Leading Jewish organisations urged Bristol University to take action after Professor David Miller launched an inflammatory tirade


The Bristol University academic facing demands to be sacked after he called for “the end of Zionism” has doubled down on his comments, adding that Jewish students were being used as “political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime”.

Leading Jewish organisations had urged Bristol University to take action after Professor David Miller launched an inflammatory tirade against Israel during an online event about free speech.

Responding to the JC, Professor Miller was unrepentant, suggesting he was the victim of attempted censorship and accusing the Union of Jewish Students of endangering the safety of Muslim students on campus.

He said: “The ‘Jewish student groups’ you refer to are political lobby groups overseen by the Union of Jewish Students, which is constitutionally bound to promoting Israel.

“There is a real question of abuse here — of Jewish students on British campuses being used as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.

“The UJS’ lobbying for Israel is a threat to the safety of Arab and Muslim students as well as of Jewish students and indeed of all critics of Israel.”

His remarks were condemned by the Campain Against Antisemitism. “David Miller is a perpetrator, not a victim,” a spokesperson said. “His doubling down on his dangerous claims that Jewish students are the pawns of Israel and pose a threat to Muslims are nothing short of incitement.”

Bristol University was urged to act in the wake of Professor Miller’s comments in which he accused Israel of an “all out onslaught… on the left globally” and demanded “the end of Zionism as a functioning ideology”.

During the nine-minute video shown at the weekend, the political sociology professor praised University College, London (UCL) for the decision of its Academic Board to recommend replacing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. He called the decision the “beginning of the fightback”.

The JC asked Professor Miller if he wanted to see his own university drop the IHRA definition, formally adopted by Bristol in 2019, and would he be prepared to resign his post to make the point. He said: “No university should allow itself to be held hostage by the State of Israel’s campaign of censorship.

“Manufactured controversies around Judeophobia — such as in my case — are being used to silence criticism of Zionism and Israel. That is the purpose of the IHRA definition in practice. If Saudi Arabia was engaged in a similar censorship campaign on British campuses, we would laugh it out of the room.”

A spokesperson for Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said: “Universities have clear responsibilities regarding discrimination and harassment, and must balance these with their legal duties to protect free speech on a case by case basis.”

Oxford, Cambridge and the majority of Russell Group universities have adopted IHRA in full and the government has urged other universities to follow suit or risk a potential cut in funding.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green has said any university that does not adopt IHRA is “letting down their students, staff and the communities they serve”.

During the video, Professor Miller also railed against Jewish student groups who lodged formal complaints about his views to Bristol University which, he claimed, was part of a “drive to stop anyone speaking out about Palestine”.

He said: “We have to fight back against [the complaints], and the way to fight back is to organise proper debates to understand these issues and not to be fooled that there is some kind of liberal Zionist panacea which is not as bad as the IHRA… This is a problem for freedom of speech and also for academic freedom.”

The University of Bristol adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism in December 2019. On Wednesday, a Department of Education spokesperson stressed Mr Williamson’s determination to eradicate antisemitism on campuses by making universities adopt IHRA.

Bristol’s JSoc said the professor’s latest outburst, made at a virtual event entitled Building The Campaign For Free Speech, was a “direct attack” on their members and President Edward Isaacs. In a statement, the JSoc said: “For a member of staff to abuse his position and launch a personal attack on our JSoc President is unjustifiable. Professor Miller’s words led to our President being targeted for abuse online.

“We will not sit by in silence and allow this hatred to be spread by representatives of our university towards Jewish students.”

The UJS added: “This is not the first time this has happened and until appropriate action is taken it will not be the last.”

In further inflammatory comments, Professor Miller told Saturday’s virtual event that Israel was attempting to “impose their will all over the world.”

On Tuesday, the Community Security Trust (CST), which has complained about Professor Miller in the past, issued a damning statement accusing the university of displaying “negligence” in failing to act over the Professor’s “unconscionable language.”

The group added that his comments had “nothing to do with academic freedom” and that they “bring into question whether students, Jewish or not, should remain under Professor Miller’s duty of care.”

The communal organisation said it was seeking an “urgent meeting” with Bristol University to see if the academic authorities finally “meet their responsibilities, which so far they have utterly failed to do.”

Reacting to growing anger, the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience, Prof Sarah Purdy, offered to meet Bristol’s JSoc to discuss the “upset” over the remarks on Tuesday.

In response, Bristol JSoc and the UJS said: “We welcome the opportunity to meet the university. However, these issues are not new and have been raised in multiple meetings previously and in formal complaints. Our message going into this meeting will be, action needs to be taken.”

A university spokesperson said: “We would urge anyone who feels that they have been discriminated against or subject to hate speech or harassment, to contact our support services so we can offer appropriate help and support.

“We are unable to comment on complaints made about individual members of staff. However, we are aware of comments made this weekend which we know have caused upset. We welcome a discussion with the Jewish Society about this and have contacted them today with an offer to meet.”

They claimed that the university was committed “to making it an inclusive place for all its students”.

A university spokesperson added: “We have been working closely with Jewish students to understand their specific concerns and worries.

“A key outcome from these discussions was the adoption, in full, of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.”

The controversial sociology lecturer quit the Labour Party last May, after being suspended when the JC revealed his remarks that the leader, Sir Keir Starmer, had taken “Zionist” money.

He claimed to have been a victim of “targeted harassment” and said he had witnessed “the degree of influence that Zionist advocates and lobbyists for Israel have over disciplinary processes and Party policy”.

An investigation by The Times last June also showed he had shared conspiracy theories about the White Helmet rescuers in Syria, the Salisbury bombings by Russia and the origins of coronavirus.

Jewish students previously voiced their concern after Prof Miller used a slide in one of his lectures linking UK communal organisations to a Zionist movement which he claimed was part of “five pillars of Islamophobia.”

The CST branded his claims, made in 2019, “disgraceful and dangerous”, and lodged a formal complaint to the university.

Defending the slides, David Miller told The Sunday Telegraph: “I don’t teach conspiracy theories of any sort” adding that it is “simply a matter of fact” that “parts of the Zionist movement are involved in funding Islamophobia”.


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