By Megan Evans, News Subeditor
Comments made by a senior lecturer at Bristol University have been denounced by MPs in the House of Commons, who have called for greater action to be taken by the university.
Leader of the House of Commons and Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has described the recent comments of Bristol sociology lecturer, Professor David Miller, as ‘deeply wicked and the sort of thing decent people simply do not say.’
The MP for North East Somerset also told the Commons on Thursday that the government expects higher education providers to ensure ‘higher education is a genuinely fulfilling and welcoming experience for everyone’ and said they ‘should have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, to investigate and to swiftly address’ issues.
Thank you to @Christian4BuryS for raising the issue at @BristolUni in the House of Commons.— Union of Jewish Students (@UJS_UK) February 25, 2021
Jewish students are being singled out and targeted by a university professor.
Bristol university must finally act to get #hateoffcampus pic.twitter.com/ceNdpBYBnK
The matter was brought to the attention of the House of Commons by Conservative MP Christian Wakeford, who called for ‘a debate on the need to improve university complaints procedures which are failing Jewish students.’
Professor David Miller has received a great deal of backlash for comments he made about Jewish students during an online conference on Saturday 13 March.
The remarks were met with public outrage after the senior lecturer 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,’ amongst other remarks.
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.’
This comes shortly after government proposals for a ‘free-speech champion’ aimed at universities and students’ unions, in order to ‘stamp out unlawful “silencing” on campus.’
Rees-Mogg himself faced no-platforming at Bristol UWE in 2018, when protestors disrupted his speech at a university event. Speaking at the time, Rees-Mogg asserted that they were ‘entitled to protest.’
A petition for Miller ‘to be held to account […] and face disciplinary action,’ started by a Bristol student, currently has over 5,800 signatures.
As a Jewish student at Bristol, the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to check this document to see if my personal tutor/diss supervisor were on there. My heart was racing, I was terrified, making contingency plans to swap out my tutors if necessary.— Nina Freedman (@ninafreedman1) February 26, 2021
A Bristol JSoc and Union of Jewish Students rally, held on Wednesday 24 Feb, called for action to be taken against the professor and was attended by 650 supporters.
When originally contacted for comment, Miller described the initial actions of JSoc and others as ‘a campaign of manufactured hysteria for two years, attempting to have me sacked.’
‘The campaign reached new heights of absurdity,’ he said, ‘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.’ He described this as ‘an age-old Israel lobby tactic imported from the US.’
Edward Isaacs, Bristol JSoc’s President, has 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.’
Miller has been a source of controversy before. In 2019, Bristol’s JSoc filed a complaint to the university after a lecture in which he described the ‘Zionist movement (parts of)’ as one of the ‘five pillars’ of Islamophobia.
No significant action was taken as a result.
Bristol Uni ‘has failed to give concrete steps’ to protect Jewish students, say UJS and Bristol JSoc ahead of online rally
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Additionally, Miller was suspended from the Labour Party last year, after claiming that the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer had been in receipt of ‘Zionist money.’
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.’
They have also stated the university is ‘unable to comment about complaints made about individual members of staff’ and have said ‘they are in discussion with Bristol JSoc and UJS.’
‘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,’ they added.
This morning, it emerged that a group of academics had written to the University of Bristol’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady, in support of Professor Miller, urging him ‘to vigorously defend the principle of academic freedom and the rights to free speech.’
Featured Image: Union of Jewish Students / Twitter
Jewish students who have been affected by the incident, can access a number of wellbeing services here.