By Teddy Coward, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Bristol University’s Jewish Society have said they hope to work with the university to ‘make sure that no students ever feel intimidated or put in an uncomfortable atmosphere’ by one of its senior lecturers, Professor David Miller, again.
Their comments come in response to remarks made by Professor Miller last Saturday, in which he called for the ‘end’ to Zionism ‘as a functioning ideology of the world’ and claimed there was an ‘attempt by Israelis to impose their will all over the world’ during an online conference.
Professor Miller, who had been suspended by the Labour Party before eventually quitting last year, after claiming its leader Sir Keir Starmer had been in receipt of ‘Zionist money’, also said during the event last weekend that he had been ‘attacked and complained about’ by Bristol’s JSoc and the Union of Jewish Students.
Bristol JSoc have subsequently said that ‘Professor Miller’s words led to our President being targeted for abuse online’.
Speaking to Epigram, Bristol JSoc’s President, Edward Isaacs, and Vice-President, AJ Solomon, have said they ‘want action’ from the university following Professor Miller’s comments.
‘It’s up to the university to determine the action that will finally protect Jewish students,’ Edward said. ‘We want to be working with the university to ensure Jewish students feel safe and comfortable at Bristol’.
‘It is unjustifiable for a member of staff to abuse his position and launch a personal attack against the President of the Jewish Society and all Jewish students as a whole,’ AJ added, referring to Professor Miller’s charge that the JSoc President had ‘attacked and complained’ about him.
Since Saturday, Bristol SU have released a statement of solidarity with Bristol JSoc, stating it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the issue and confirmed JSoc and senior staff at the university will meet with the university society to discuss the matter.
Yesterday, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees also held a meeting with Bristol JSoc and a representative from the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) to discuss Professor Miller’s remarks.
A petition calling for Professor Miller ‘to be held to account for his actions and face disciplinary action for his comments’ has also been launched by a Bristol student, and has so far received over 450 signatures.
In response to the backlash following Saturday’s events, Professor Miller repeated his view to Epigram that Zionism ‘is an endemically anti-Arab and Islamophobic ideology’ that ‘has no place in any society.’
He also reiterated his comments made over the weekend regarding Bristol JSoc, stating: ‘Bristol’s JSoc, like all JSocs, operates under the auspices of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), an Israel lobby group. The UJS is constitutionally bound to promoting Israel and campaigns to silence critics of Zionism or the State of Israel on British campuses.’
In addition, Professor Miller dismissed the actions of UJS and Bristol JSoc as ‘a campaign of manufactured hysteria for two years, attempting to have me sacked.’
‘The campaign reached new heights of absurdity,’ he claimed, ‘when a Zionist activist pretended to be a student in one of my classes for which she was not registered, expressly for the purpose of political surveillance,’ describing this as ‘an age-old Israel lobby tactic imported from the US.’
Edward Isaacs further told HuffPost UK: ‘In his accusations, Professor Miller seems to believe that the fact I have been born a Jew makes me responsible for all acts by the state of Israel.
‘Professor Miller’s call to end Zionism equates to a call to end Jewish self-determination and emancipation and begs the question: what does he wish to happen to these Zionists?’
This is not the first incident in which Professor Miller has caused controversy. In 2019, Bristol’s JSoc filed a complaint against the sociology lecturer after one of his lectures had listed the ‘Zionist movement (parts of)’ as one of the ‘five pillars’ of Islamophobia.
Community Security Trust (CST), a UK charity that seeks to protect British Jews from antisemitism, had also filed a complaint to Bristol University, and had described the lack of action taken against Professor Miller as an ‘utter disgrace’.
In response to this latest incident, the charity have said: ‘CST first complained to Bristol University about Professor David Miller’s promotion of what we consider to be antisemitic conspiracy theories two years ago, following concerns raised with us by Jewish students attending his lectures.
‘Despite repeated complaints Bristol University took no significant action and their negligence has led to this latest outrage, in which Miller explicitly targeted Bristol University’s Jewish Society by associating them with an “enemy” – Zionism – that he slanders as Islamophobic and racist and says must be defeated.
‘This is unconscionable language for any academic to use about students at his own university. It has nothing to do with academic freedom and brings into question whether any students, Jewish or not, should remain under Professor Miller’s duty of care.’
A University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to making our University an inclusive place for all students. 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.
‘We also seek at all times to abide by both our Free Speech Policy and our Public Sector Equality Duties. Specifically, we are steadfast in our commitment to freedom of speech and to the rights of all our students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics.
‘Universities are places of research and learning, where debate and dissent are not only permitted but expected, and where controversial and even offensive ideas may be put forward, listened to and challenged. Intellectual freedom is fundamental to our mission and values.
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‘We also affirm our equally strong commitment to making our University a place where all feel safe, welcomed and respected, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability or social background.
‘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.’
Featured Image: Labour Against the Witch Hunt / Campaign for Free Speech / YouTube
Jewish students who have been affected by the incident, can access a number of wellbeing services here.