CST calls Bristol University an 'utter disgrace' for response to complaint about lecture

The organisation had complained about a professor's claim it was linked to the spread of Islamophobia


The Community Security Trust has called Bristol University "an utter disgrace" over its response to a complaint the CST made about a lecture linking it to the spread of Islamophobia.

The community’s defence organisation protested in March over a lecture given earlier in the year by sociology professor David Miller which claimed that parts of the Zionist movement were funding hatred of Muslims.

It also forwarded comments by two Jewish students at the university who were upset at the contents of the lecture.

The CST supplied the university with a copy of a slide it said had been used in the lecture that listed the “Zionist movement (parts of)” as one of the “five pillars” of Islamophobia.

Another slide, about the fourth pillar, listed the “[Community Security Trust]”.

In a letter to Bristol’s vice-chancellor Hugh Brady, the CST wrote: “Professor Miller’s suggestion that CST in some way encourages, condones or generates Islamophobia or anti-Muslim prejudice is an entirely false and disgraceful slur.”

It also took issue with another slide presenting a network of prominent Jewish individuals and organisations beneath the words “Israeli government” at the top.

According to the CST, one Jewish student who contacted the organisation said they “felt uncomfortable and intimidated in his class”.

Another said “I don’t think it is right that I should have to sit in a lecture or seminar in fear”.

In a statement, a Bristol University spokesperson said it had “taken action in response to this to ensure that the lecture material in question is accurate, clear and not open to misinterpretation.”

No disciplinary action was “currently being considered”.

But Mark Gardner, the CST’s director of communications, said his organisation had been “deeply shocked by Bristol’s failure to seriously engage with the content of both our complaint and that of the Jewish students. The university has been an utter disgrace.”

The university’s spokesperson said that it had “no evidence to suggest that Jewish students feel unsafe here at Bristol” but encouraged anyone who felt disciriminated against to contact its support services.

Seb Sultan, a Jewish student about to start his third year at Bristol who earlier this year co-founded the Bristol Students Against Anti-Semitism campaign, said he believed Professor Miller should be removed.

“I don’t think the University of Bristol should be employing him,” he said.

While the university was “generally a good place for Jewish students,” he said, “there are isolated incidents which need to be taken seriously.”

Nina Freedman said, as president of the Jewish Society at the university, she had complained to it on behalf of students who had attended Professor Miller's lecture.

She was “severely disappointed” with the university’s response and “their refusal to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism to judge this case. I firmly believe that the university should adopt this definition in order to safeguard their students against anti-Jewish racism.”

Dan Kosky, the campaigns organiser of the Union of Jewish Students, said it “should be of the deepest concern that when Jewish students believe the University of Bristol do not take their concerns seriously enough, the institution’s leadership states that they have ‘no evidence to suggest Jewish students feel unsafe’.”

He added: "It is also quite unbelievable that the University is encouraging Jewish students to come forward and engage in their support services when they do not apply the internationally recognised definition of oppression against Jews to their investigations of antisemitism.

"Academic freedom does not extend to teaching material which implies that the communal bodies of the Jewish community are in some way under the control of Israel, weaving a web of control and influence - a classic antisemitic trope."

But one Jewish student, Izzy Posen, president of the Free Speech Society on campus, said he believed Professor Miller’s comments “conspirational and radical”, adding he did not think he should be penalised.

“The best response is not disciplining academics who say things we don’t like, but to respond to them academically,” he told the JC.

He cautioned against using terms such as “unsafe” or “uncomfortable”, arguing that it could be counterproductive. When his society had invited a representative of the Israeli Embassy to speak, some students had protested at the invitation, claiming they would feel unsafe, he noted.

Professor Miller told the Sunday Telegraph that it was “simply a matter of fact” that “parts of the Zionist movement are involved in funding Islamophobia”.  

He denied a suggestion his lecture had used language reminiscent of antisemitic tropes and said he did not teach “conspiracy theories of any sort”.

It was, he said, “a matter of public record that Islamophobic organisations and movements are in receipt of funding from specific groups and individuals. Some of these are also prominent in the Zionist movement.”

His lecture series on “Harms of the Powerful”, he said, requiring teaching about “repressive and authoritarian states including the UK and Israel, but also repressive Muslim majority states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.” 

Students of all backgrounds, he said, could find “some of the material challenging if it goes against their existing beliefs or knowledge-base."

Professor Miller last year suggested that most claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party were false.

This year he helped to set up a crowdfunding campaign to help suspended MP Chris Williamson raise money for a legal challenge against the Labour's decision to withdraw the whip.

Mr Williamson is awaiting a disciplinary hearing over his repeated interventions in the party's antisemitism crisis, including his remarks that it had been “too apologetic” over antisemitism.

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