As a Jewish Sociology student at Bristol, the events of the past two weeks or so have weighed heavily on my mind. Bristol Sociology Professor David Miller has recently made various claims regarding Jewish students, most notably that we Jewish students are being used as pawns by the Israeli government.
Whilst being so ridiculous it is almost laughable; this claim is in fact very dangerous. Words have consequences, and what has followed Miller’s comments is an unleashing of anti-Semitic abuse directed towards Jewish students.
I am now terrified of encountering Miller at some point throughout my degree and have spent the past week working out how to avoid him. It saddens me that I have to do this, but for now I am afraid it is necessary.
I should not have to live in fear of my teachers rallying against me and my friends. Universities have a duty of care towards ALL students. This letter flagrantly disregards the feelings of Jewish students and every academic on here should be ashamed.https://t.co/JZubOp75Rk— Nina Freedman (@ninafreedman1) February 26, 2021
What worries me most is the response to this situation from various academics. Rather than listen to their Jewish students, academics published an open letter – which has been signed globally – to defend Miller on the grounds of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
There is some truth in what they say, and I won’t deny feeling conflicted between my vehement support for freedom of speech and my Jewish identity. Universities must be places of free speech; it is vital for their academic rigour that concepts are debated and ideas challenged – no one is opposing this.
My issue does not lie with Miller’s anti-Zionism. It is crucial that Zionism is debated and subject to criticism within a framework of free speech. Many Jews themselves are ardent anti-Zionists and critics of Israel. My issue lies with Miller’s views dressed up in academic language and passed off as anti-Zionism, and the danger this poses as he lectures to groups of young, impressionable students and where objectionable views are passed off as fact.
Overall, I agree with the signatories that academic freedom must prevail, but not to the extent that it is used as a disguise for spreading dangerous conspiracies and harmful mistruths.
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 publication of this letter has given authority to Miller’s claims, and has legitimated the targeting of Jewish students for speaking out against anti-Semitism. As a Jewish student I feel paranoid and unwelcome on campus, and I know that I will now sit in my classes and fear that my tutors are supporters of David Miller.
Bristol University has done nothing but issue a feeble statement saying they ‘do not endorse’ Miller’s comments. Their failure to take stronger action has allowed this situation to develop and grow far further than it should have done.
I was reminded of that this morning when I logged on to Twitter and saw a tweet conflating Bristol’s JSoc with the KKK and the EDL. By not acting, the University is allowing Miller’s comments to fester and gain traction, increasingly spreading the falsity that harmless Jewish students are weapons of Israel and should be feared by all.
I genuinely do not know if dismissing Miller is the best outcome of this situation, I fear it will simply add fuel to the fire and further polarise.
However, I do feel as if I am screaming into a void here. No one is listening to Jewish students, we simply do not matter. Sadly, I’ve come away from this situation feeling let down by my university, and – as put by David Baddiel recently – as if ‘Jews Don’t Count’.
It saddens me that I have to write this piece anonymously, but after the events of recent weeks and after recognising many names on the letter of academic support for David Miller as tutors from my department, I feel I have to. Nor do I wish to be the subject of such vicious online abuse I have seen directed towards fellow Jewish students throughout this debacle.
Featured Image: Epigram / Teddy Coward
What do you think of the matter surrounding Professor David Miller?