By Teddy Coward, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The Union of Jewish Students and Bristol’s JSoc have said Bristol University ‘has failed to give concrete steps on what they can do to protect their Jewish students from hatred and racism’ ahead of an online rally calling for action to be taken against Professor David Miller.
The rally, called ‘Hate Off Campus’, is due to take place at 5pm today and has been organised by Bristol JSoc in response to a controversial video of the sociology lecturer criticising Zionism and Bristol’s JSoc, which emerged last week.
During the video of the Campaign For Free Speech event, Professor Miller had called for an ‘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’.
Today we met with members of the senior management team at the University of Bristol, and yet again they have failed to take action. We will not let this drop. Join us tomorrow 5pm at our virtual rally to stand with Jewish students to get #hateoffcampushttps://t.co/ZuPq98ci5q pic.twitter.com/V9qx554bZd— Bristol JSoc (@BristolJsoc) February 23, 2021
He also said he had been ‘attacked and complained about’ by Bristol University’s JSoc and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), before adding: ‘JSocs are all part of the UJS which is a direct member of the World Zionist Organisation.’
Edward Isaacs, Bristol JSoc’s President, told Epigram: ‘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?’
‘Since making those comments, Miller has confessed that I, as a Jewish student at the University of Bristol and President of JSoc, am a direct threat to my fellow Muslim Bristol students. These are ridiculous and baseless claims that deserve no more response.’
Isaacs also said he hoped the university’s actions would mean ‘no one is ever subject to Dave Miller’s harmful language ever again’.
Yet, following a meeting yesterday with university senior management, Bristol JSoc said the university ‘has failed to give concrete steps on what they can do to protect their Jewish students,’ adding that they intended to ‘continue to hold the University to account and get hate off campus’.
In response to the initial backlash, Professor Miller appeared to double-down on his remarks when contacted for comment, telling Epigram: ‘Zionism is and always has been a racist, violent, imperialist ideology premised on ethnic cleansing. It is an endemically anti-Arab and Islamophobic ideology. It has no place in any society.’
He also reiterated his initial comments regarding Bristol JSoc, saying that it, ‘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,’ he added. ‘This campaign of censorship renders Arab and Muslim students, as well as anti-Zionist Jewish students, particularly unsafe.’
In addition, Professor Miller described 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,’ which he described as ‘an age-old Israel lobby tactic imported from the US.’
Professor Miller’s comments have caused outrage among many within the Jewish community, including the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl.
In a letter addressed to Bristol University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Hugh Brady on Friday, she said Professor Miller’s ‘rants would not look out of place on the pages of Der Stürmer’, a Nazi tabloid and added that ‘in the UK, unlike the US, there has always been an understanding that free speech should not include hate speech.’
Marie van der Zyl will be a guest speaker at this evening’s rally, along with Countdown’s Rachel Riley.
Four members from the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism have also written to Professor Hugh Brady, stating Professor Miller ‘has in our opinion been inciting hatred against Jewish students on your campus’ and that he ‘brings public shame’ to Bristol University.
Other high-profile political figures have also weighed in on the issue, with Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees having met Bristol JSoc’s President and Vice-President last Wednesday, before the Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire tweeted the situation was ‘completely unacceptable’ and that she was following up the case with the university.
A petition set up by a Bristol University student calling for the university to take disciplinary action against Professor Miller now has over 5,000 signatures.
A spokesperson for the University of Bristol has previously said: ‘We do not endorse the comments made by Professor Miller about our Jewish students. We are proud of our students for their independence and individual contributions to the University and wider society.’
Following yesterday’s meeting they added: ‘We had a useful meeting with Bristol JSoc and UJS. We heard their concerns and are continuing to work with them.
‘However, at the students’ request, we are unable to go into detail about the discussions.
‘We remain committed to making our University an inclusive place for all students, while also upholding our commitment to freedom of speech and to the rights of all our students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics.’
All of this comes amidst renewed debate around free speech on campus after the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced plans last week for a ‘free speech champion’ who could impose fines on universities and student unions in the event of no-platforming speakers or the dismissal of academics.
Featured Image: Bristol JSoc/UJS