Academic tells university event Jewish students' campus fears are 'propaganda'

Prof David Miller also attacked Ken Livingstone's treatment by the Labour Party as a 'disgrace'


A speaker at an event organised by the former education officer for UCL Students' Union dismissed allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party as “mostly false” and labelled security concerns of Jewish students “propaganda which they have been schooled with”.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol, had been invited to speak at a seminar titled “How to stand up against intimidation at campuses”, held by an organisation called Olive, whose mission is “Mobilising Palestinian youth by raising awareness, enabling and empowering them on their journey towards a free and peaceful homeland.”

The event, held earlier this month, was organised by Sarah Al-Aride, the former Education Officer at UCL Students' Union, whose term expired in July. On the event’s Facebook page, Ms Al-Aride stressed it was “for students only”.

Prof Miller, who has previously claimed that a number of UK charities “financially support the Occupation”, as well as listing specific British Jews who have given money to such charities, told the students: “Let’s be clear, there is antisemitism in the Labour Party.”

However, he immediately followed by saying, “there are people who are actual antisemites - very, very few of them - a much larger number of people who occasionally say things that might be seen to be potentially antisemitic by accident...I admit that’s true, but by and large most of the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party have been false.”

In the full recording of the event, which was published on Harry's Place website, Prof Miller went on to say, in response to a question about Jewish students feeling unsafe on campus, that “it’s absurd if Jews genuinely feel unsafe as a result of Palestinian rights, well then you’ve got to ask questions about who they are and what they’re talking about.

"It’s not Jewish students who feel unsafe, it’s specific Jewish students who are part of a particular political tendency who are saying that they feel unsafe."

He went on to say that “these are not students who are spontaneously threatened”, alleging that “it’s propaganda which they have been schooled with… there are organisations Israel lobby organisations Zionist movement organisations, some allied to the Israeli government, who have devoted huge amounts of time to do messaging to working out how to combat, in particular, BDS.”

The academic, who described himself as a Labour member who had briefly been suspended for comments about Zionism, also defended Ken Livingstone and Tony Greenstein, calling their treatment from the party “absurd” and “a disgrace” and saying: “I don’t think anything [Mr Livingstone] said was historically inaccurate.”

He also discussed the concept of Israel “as a racist endeavour”, telling the audience that “the creation of the state of Israel is a settler colonial project which required the native people being dispossessed and expelled. It was by definition a racist endeavour, there’s no getting away from that, I say that in cognizance that to say something that I’ve just said is regarded by lots of people as being antisemitic. It isn’t.

“The whole question of settler colonialism is a really important concept. The settler colony in Northern Ireland resembled in many ways the settler colony in Palestine. The settler colony in Algeria the same, the settler colony in South Africa the same. The settler colonies in New Zealand, Australia, and indeed in the United States and Canada - they don’t resemble it. Why don’t they resemble it? Because they eradicated the natives. That’s how you get away with it, right? You have to go - oh hang on that’s what they’re doing isn’t it?

“That’s the objective, isn’t it? Judaise, expel, make sure that it’s not possible for in the future there to be too many Palestinians. That’s the game isn’t it. That’s the whole game in the process.”

Daniel Kosky, campaigns officer for the Union of Jewish Students, said: 

"We are deeply concerned by the comments made by Professor Miller surrounding the safety of Jewish students on campus.

"It’s not for anyone but Jewish students to say whether or not they feel safe on campus. Jewish students who have expressed concerns do so not as a result of “propaganda” or for any other ulterior motive. To suggest they do so is part of the very problem that Professor Miller seeks to deny'."

Defending his talk, Prof Miller said: “I would say that I gave a nuanced response which accepted the evidence of actual and clumsy or mistaken antisemitism in the context of the campaign led by pro-Israel forces against Jeremy Corbyn.”

He expressed “regret” that “any student should feel unsafe on campus as a result of their faith, identity or ethnicity”, and cited the "hasbara phrase book" (the “Luntz report”) produced by the Israel Project as evidence for his allegation that some Jewish students claiming to feel unsafe are part of a propaganda exercise.

Commenting on his claim that Israel is a racist endeavour, he said: "I note... that you have excised the portion where I discuss the intricacies of the IHRA definition in which saying  ‘a' state of Israel is a racist endeavour ‘could, taking into account the overall context’ be antisemitic.

"I specifically discussed ‘the‘ actual historical state of Israel  - not any more general or hypothetical state of Israel; and that second I was not making a point about ‘the Jews’ but specifically about a form of colonialism which is not exceptional, but which is in fact part of a wider historical pattern.”

Prof Miller insists that the idea of Israel as a settler colonial entity is well supported in the scholarly literature and that his work on Israel/Palestine is rigorously evidence based. 

He stated: "I reject the smear, evidenced in this article, that critics of Israeli policies are antisemitic."

Ms Al-Aride has been contacted for comment.

Update: An earlier version of this story identified Ms Al-Aride as the current education officer for the UCL Students Union. The article has been changed to identify her as the former education officer for the Students Union, with her term having ended several months ago. 

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