Parliament should intervene over a “ludicrous” ruling that an academic who called Jewish students “pawns” of Israel was sacked unfairly and that anti-Zionism is a “protected characteristic”, Lord Mann has said.
Sociologist David Miller, 60, was sacked by Bristol University in 2021 after a string of provocative statements.
But this week, an employment tribunal awarded him compensation.
Lord Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, told the JC: “The concept that an ideology needs protecting is totally ludicrous. What needs protecting are identities, not ideologies…
“The same logic could be applied to a white supremacist.” He added: “The ruling starts to undermine the protections that the Equality Act claims to guard.”
The antisemitism adviser also suggested that if anti-Zionism is labelled a protected characteristic then Zionism should be categorised in the same way, potentially collapsing the case.
The Attorney General should “reflect and come up with a solution,” he said. “There will be a consensus in Parliament that this needs ironing out.”
In 2019, Lord Mann wrote to Bristol University citing his concerns about antisemitism on campus. This week, he said: “I don’t see where Jewish students go from here.”
Miller was sacked by Bristol University in October 2021 after consistently making comments about Israel and Zionism which many found to be antisemitic.
Whilst employed by the university, Miller advocated for the defeat of Zionism and said the Jewish Student Society was an “Israel lobby group” that had “manufactured hysteria” about his teaching. He also notoriously called Jewish students “political pawns [of] a violent, racist, foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”.
Miller now works for Iranian state-owned TV. On air, he has accused Zionist movements of posing “a genuine threat to national security” and suggested that Israel fabricated reports that Hamas had mutilated babies on October 7.
While he was employed by Bristol University, Jewish students said Miller made them feel “unsafe and unprotected” on campus. After much controversy, the university sacked him and said his comments did not meet its “standards of behaviour”.
This week, a Bristol employment tribunal found that the lecturer’s anti-Zionism “qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic” under the 2010 Equality Act.
Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, said: “Recognition that anti-Zionism (even in its most extreme form) is a protected characteristic should ensure that Zionism is also treated as a protected characteristic…This could have substantial benefits in fighting discrimination, harassment and victimisation against Jews and others for real or supposed support for Israel.”
A spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students said it was “disappointed” by the judgment. “This may set a dangerous precedent about what can be lawfully said on campus about Jewish students and the societies at the centre of their social life, which may ultimately make Jewish students less safe,” the spokesman said.
Speking in Parliament on Wednesday, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said: “Disguising [harassment] as discourse about Israel would be no more lawful than any other form of antisemitism and the government will be doing anything in our power to protect Jewish people in our country.”
The ruling did not address whether Miller was antisemitic. An independent report by Aileen McColgan KC, who has represented disgraced ex-MP Chris Williamson, concluded that Miller’s behaviour at the time — which included describing Israel as “a racist endeavour” — was not antisemitic, sparking outrage.
During the tribunal, Miller claimed he had experienced discrimination based on his “philosophical belief that Zionism is inherently racist, imperialist, and colonial.”
The ruling described him as an “academic with expertise in Zionism and the Zionist movement.”
Using a framework known as the Grainger criteria, the tribunal found that Miller’s anti-Zionism was a belief that was “genuinely held” and “worthy of respect in a democratic society”, therefore protected under the 2010 Equality Act.
While he succeeded in his claims of unfair dismissal, Miller had his compensation reduced by half because his sacking was “caused or contributed to” by his actions. He was found to be “culpable and blameworthy” for comments about students and societies which might have been “regarded as bullying or abusive”. The ruling concluded that Miller’s comments had “an adverse impact” on the university’s reputation and sections of the student and academic body.
The judgment found there was a 30 per cent chance that Miller would have been dismissed because of comments he made on social media in 2023, including the tweet “Judeophobia barely exists these days”. Miller’s later comments were “of a different order” to those he made in 2021, the ruling understood.
Despite the reduced compensation ruling, Miller’s lawyers said they would seek “maximum compensation”, which is unlimited in cases of discrimination and capped at a year’s pay, or £105,707 for unfair dismissal.
Zillur Rahman from Rahman Lowe Solicitors, who represented Miller, said: “The genocide Israel is committing at present has woken the world up to the very belief David holds and was manifesting, which is that Zionism is inherently racist and must be opposed.”
Miller said he felt “vindicated” and was “very proud” that the tribunal ruling “establish[ed] that anti-Zionist views qualify as a protected belief under the UK Equality Act.”
Bristol alumnus Sabrina Miller, who led the campaign to have Miller dismissed, tweeted: “[I am] incredibly concerned about the impact this will have on the safety and wellbeing of Jewish students around the country.”
A Board of Deputies spokesman said: “It is clear exactly who David Miller is and what he believes. And we, alongside other Jewish communal organisations, will never stop fighting on behalf of Jewish students and others in this country who have to come into contact with people like him every single day.”
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust said it is “extremely concerned about what the Employment Tribunal considers is acceptable for a University Professor to say publicly about Jewish students and Jewish Societies who raised legitimate complaints about him. He has continued to express his obnoxious opinions on Iranian State TV, which is exactly where he belongs.”
A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “The University of Bristol acknowledges the judgment of the Employment Tribunal but is disappointed with its findings.
“After a full investigation and careful deliberation, the University concluded that Dr Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff in relation to comments he made in February 2021 about students and student societies linked to the University. As a result and considering our responsibilities to our students and the wider University community, his employment was terminated.
“We recognise that these matters have caused deep concern for many, and that members of our community hold very different views from one another. We would, therefore, encourage everyone to respond in a responsible and sensitive way in the current climate.
“The University of Bristol remains committed to fostering a positive working and learning environment that enriches lives and where the essential principles of academic freedom are preserved.
“The University is reviewing the tribunal’s lengthy judgment carefully and in light of that review, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”