Podcast Ep 47: Why we have to talk about Zionism

On episode 47, Asa and Nora speak with David Miller, a sociology professor and leading critic of the Israel lobby who was fired by the University of Bristol on 1 October.

Miller was sacked after a years-long campaign of smears by that same lobby.

He talks about his ongoing work researching the history of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, and how the lobby’s efforts to smear and silence him have only led him to speak louder.

“I think one of the things which has become clear in this process is that it’s necessary to talk about Zionism,” Miller tells us.

“This is about dismantling ideology,” he says, “the same way as we would talk about dismantling racism – racism is not just a set of ideas. It has material forms and practices.”

He argues that “If you want to dismantle and eradicate Zionism, you have to dismantle the apparatus which puts it in place.”

“The road to socialism in Britain, if there is such a thing, goes through the Zionist movement,” Miller says. “It doesn’t go around it, it goes through the Zionist movement. You can’t go around Zionism.”

With the successful campaign by Israel and its lobby to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, these same forces have now moved on to academia and the rest of the public sphere in Britain.

Miller’s sacking is just the start. He says it is a question of “when people will have the confidence … to fight back and to say no to this? I think we’re in the foothills of this [campaign].”

Articles we discussed

Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. I’m Nora Barrows-Friedman with Asa Winstanley. Before we go to this episode, which is a wonderful interview with David Miller, Asa, you had a little update of news that happened between the time we recorded this interview with David and up till now.

Asa Winstanley: Yes, that’s right. So since we shot this episode with David, I published an article which directly relates to issues that he talks about in the interview. So later on in the interview, you hear him talking about two QC’s reports. A QC is just a fancy British name for a lawyer. So he’s talking about two separate reports by a British lawyer which both exonerated him of anti-Semitism. So I have obtained one of those and I wrote about it, and as David says in the interview, it does exonerate him of anti-Semitism. It says, in fact, that he has “no case to answer” for anti-Semitism. So not only did the lawyer examine the claims, but actually says that he should never have had to answer for these claims at all because they are baseless. So after you’ve watched the interview, check out that article. It’s titled “David Miller was cleared of anti-Semitism, leaked document shows.”

Nora Barrows-Friedman: We’ll also have a link to that on the podcast blog post that accompanies this. So without further ado, let’s go to the interview we did with David Miller.

Asa Winstanley: Welcome to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. We’re here today with David Miller, who until earlier this month was a sociology professor at the University of Bristol. David is an academic expert on the Israel lobby and has published many valuable reports over the years. He founded Spinwatch and its brilliant online database Powerbase. Bristol University fired him on 1 October following a long campaign against him by the Israel lobby. In its announcement of the firing Bristol gave no specific reason for the sacking, saying only that “he did not meet the standards of behavior we expect from our staff.”

But the reality is that following the downfall of their previous target, Jeremy Corbyn, pro-Israel campaigners had made David their public enemy number one, especially since the start of this year. They smeared him, his research and his teaching as anti-Semitic, due to the fact that he opposes Zionism, Israel’s racist official ideology. So we’re going to talk about all that, and we’re going to talk about the campaign against him and the reality behind it, today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast. David, welcome to the show.

David Miller: Thank you for having me.

Asa Winstanley: So firstly, how are you doing? And have you had a lot of support since you were fired?

David Miller: I’m doing okay. You know, it’s a pretty major thing to go through. Having been in academia for, I think, three decades, to one morning, just be told that’s it. And they didn’t quite tell me to clean my desk by the evening, but they cut off my email by the evening, disabled my card to access the building etc. So I’m now an ex-academic unless, of course, my appeal, which is due within 28 days of the sacking, results in me being reinstated. I don’t have a great deal of optimism about that, but we’ll certainly go through the process of an appeal. And then of course, there are other legal options available after that which may take some time. So I’m feeling fine really, given what’s happened. And yes, there’s been a lot of support. I noticed that someone’s created a petition in my support, which seems to have over 23,000 signatures in two or three days, which I’m a little bit surprised by – pleasantly surprised by. And I’ve had lots of messages from people. And I see there’s been lots of activity online and offline as well which I’m aware of, in the union, etc. So I’m buoyed up by that, but it’s not a pleasant situation to be in. And it’s a real victory for the Zionist movement to be able to remove an academic. I genuinely didn’t think that this was going to be possible. But here we are.

Asa Winstanley: That weekend that you got fired, I actually got contacted by lots of people who were a bit shocked. I got texted by people saying, Did you know this was gonna happen? And I had to reply, saying, sadly, I suspected it would. And it is definitely a quite a big victory for them. It’s a really difficult situation.

David Miller: Sure.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: David, talk a little bit about your work investigating the Israel lobby, how you began investigating it and what it’s led you to.

David Miller: I started in research in the 1980s, doing a PhD on the Northern Ireland conflict. And you might think that’s got no relevance. But that’s one of the things which, when it came to the moment of starting to do work on Israel-Palestine, I got a lot from that work, which was in propaganda and the media. But also, perhaps more importantly, from the question of understanding the Northern Ireland conflict in relation to settler-colonialism. I did a book in 1998, called Rethinking Northern Ireland, and I was the editor and I had a very long chapter which sets out the way of understanding the conflict in the north of Ireland as being about colonialism. And actually, about settler-colonialism, the settler-colony in the north of Ireland. There’s really very remarkable similarities to the conflict over Palestine. And so that’s been something which certainly informed my approach to this whole issue.

And this is an interesting thing, isn’t it, that one of the things that the Zionists say is, Oh well, they pick out Israel and they demonize it, and they delegitimize it, and they use double standards, they don’t say the same thing about any other country. That’s the phrase, the “Three D” phrase from Natan Sharansky from back in the early 2000s. And, of course, that’s not the case – we don’t think that settler-colonialism is just something which affects Palestine. We think it has affected lots of other places, most obviously South Africa, but also Algeria and the north of Ireland, and indeed those other places in the world where we don’t think of settler-colonialism anymore because the natives were entirely exterminated. So Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, etc. Now, these are obvious parallels with what’s happening in Palestine. And yet, people tend to shy away from making those kinds of comparisons, but they are comparisons which undermine the whole rhetoric of the Zionists on BDS, on delegitimization etc, because it shows that this is not an aberration. This is not because of some terrible quality of the Jews to get involved in settler-colonialism, this is absolutely, straightforwardly what happens in settler-colonialism.

So this is something which I’ve taken from my earlier work, in addition to the work of this stuff, and propaganda, which has really informed a lot of my understanding of the conflict over Palestine. So to take you forward several years, I mentioned a book in 1998, which seems an eon ago now. I started becoming interested in Israel-Palestine. I’ve always known about it in the background. When I was a student in the 80s, we had a Palestinian president of our students’ union and the University of Glasgow was twinned with Birzeit university and there was a strong sense of the Palestinian struggle being one of a number of struggles which people wanted to express solidarity with. South Africa was another, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc. But I hadn’t really ever become involved or interested in research terms and it was only when I started to do work on the neoconservative movement. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, I’d done work on the Iraq war, on propaganda, a book you can perhaps see the cover of behind my shoulder called “Tell Me Lies” which we published in 2004. And in particular the existence of the neoconservative movement in Europe, not just in the UK, but in other European countries.

We had a project called Neocon Europe, where we said that the neoconservaties are not just a movement in the US, which has been important in relation to the Iraq conflict, but also have spread across the world and the signature neocon ideas about Islam and about the need to tackle extremism and the ideas about radicalization, have very markedly affected public policy on counterterrorism, on Islamophobia issues etc. across the continent in different ways, at different times. So I got involved in studying the neocons and that was the first time when we published a report, back in maybe 2010 on neoconservative think tanks in the UK. Policy Exchange, the Center for Social Cohesion, which became what’s now the most important neocon think tank in this country, the Henry Jackson Society, named after of course, the Democratic senator Henry Jackson. And I was accused then of being an anti-Semite. And I was surprised. I was like, This is odd. What’s going on here? And I was obviously, outraged as well, because I’m an anti-racist, and always have been and that really irritated me and I couldn’t quite understand it.

And that’s what provoked me and has kept me going on studying the Zionist movement. I never studied it before. It was only through that that I started to study the Zionist movement. And eventually we did a report on BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre in the UK. And then we did some more work on neoconservatives and we’ve done more work on the EU Israel lobby. And in the last three or four years, I’ve been doing a lot more work on the Israel lobby and Zionism, some of which was published in my co-edited book, What is Islamophobia? where we talked about the five pillars of Islamophobia, if you get the gag. And the first pillar, the backbone of Islamophobia, we said was the state’s counterterrorism apparatus, but that there were four social movements which extend and pressure the state to go further against the interests of Muslims as a class. And those were the neocons – the far-right or the counter-jihad movement, as it’s called. Parts of the left: the pro-war left, some elements of the feminist movement, but also parts of the Zionist movement. And it was that which got me into trouble first of all, when this whole issue started back in 2019.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: This happens to academics here in the United States as well, as they expose the Israel lobby. They talk about Zionism as a racist ideology openly. And they become a target. And the Israel lobby wants to make an example of them by either trying to get them fired and smearing them as an anti-Semite when it’s completely absurd. And sometimes they get what they want and it seems like they have tried to make an example out of you to scare other academics and scholars into silence. Will you be silenced by this campaign? Is this changing who you are?

David Miller: Well I think you know the answer to that question. Of course not. Interesting isn’t it: this week I would be doing lectures and seminars on my module on terrorism, which I enjoyed doing, but not doing that means I have more time to focus on my research and writing efforts which because of the investigation of me in the last six to seven months and indeed going through stretching back for three years, it’s been very difficult for me to speak out. I absolutely will not be silenced. I have a ton of material, some of it ready to go and other stuff being finished off. But maybe I can say a little bit about my understanding of Zionism because that might help to understand why it is that they have been so keen on having a go at me and also what I think about the question of Zionism.

I think one of the things which has become clear in this process is that it’s necessary to talk about Zionism.

In the attack on the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party, quite a number of people on the left said, let’s not use the Z word, let’s talk about something else, let’s just talk about Israel as the apartheid state. Zionism just is too complex a topic, or it means different things to different sorts of Jewish people and it’s not necessarily just a racist ideology, it can have some kind of meaning.

If you do that you’re going to alienate people etc. I’ve listened to some of that and I get some of that. But actually, the research that we’ve done shows that the Zionist movement is an actually existing set of organizations. It was set up formally in 1897. The Zionist movement itself existed before then, but formally they set up in 1897. And they created a number of organizations in the intervening couple of decades, at the beginning of the 20th century, all of them which [still] exist today, which are the backbone of the transnational Zionist movement. And these are formally existing organizations which relate to each other, have formal relations with each other, both funding and organizational relations.

The key one is the World Zionist Organization, the most important organization in the Zionist movement. There are three other organizations which were created: the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency. As you know, they’re called the four National Institutions in Israel. And they all live in National Institutions House, one building in Jerusalem. This is not something which is made up by conspiracy theorists. This is the actuality of the situation: that there are four key bodies which are the head of the Zionist movement and they’re ruled by the periodical called Zionist Congress, the ultimate decision-making body of the movement. These are their words, not mine. This is what they have on their websites.

Now all of those organizations have either members or offices of bodies associated with them in all the countries where the Zionist movement is organized. In the UK for example there’s a JNF UK, there’s a Keren Hayesod branch, there’s an office for the Jewish Agency. And more importantly, in terms of numbers of organizations, the Zionist Federation of the UK has 30 or 40 members, maybe less than it used to have, but 30 or 40 members, all of which are formally members of the Zionist movement. Now this is something which just is an organizational fact about the Zionist movement, and people don’t understand that, they think that they have some kind of loose relationship. No: they have formal relationships with each other.

Asa Winstanley: Too many people don’t read. I find it really frustrating. People on the left like Novara Media kind of people, they just don’t do the reading. They think they can talk about it, but they haven’t actually done the research that it takes to understand this movement.

David Miller: Sure. So my point is not just that this is an actually existing set of organizations, which it is, and not just that there are also a whole host of other pro-Israel groups, which are not formally part of the Zionist movement, which are informally part of the Zionist movement, something like the Community Security Trust (CST), or the Board of Deputies, or the Jewish Leadership Council, all of which are not formally part of the Zionist movement, but actually, in practice, are pro-Israel organizations, as everybody knows, and as everybody who reads their reports can tell. My point is that these are actually existing organizations which do particular political activities in the UK, and in the US and in Germany and France etc, wherever the Zionist movement is organized.

And that means that we’re not just talking about the deeds of the Israeli government. We’re not just talking about the ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrar or Silwan, the assault on Gaza, the human rights abuses that everyone talks about, the judgment about whether Israel is an apartheid state, which of course, it is, or the question about whether it’s a settler-colonial society and whether Zionism is racism. Everyone kind of knows what the answer to those questions are. But actually that the power – to the extent that it has power – and the influence of Zionist movement is something which is separate to, in a way, the activities of the Israeli government.

It’s not just the Israeli government we should be condemning, it’s the huge apparatus of the Zionist movement which is active in this country, in the US and many other countries where the Zionist movement is active. And that is something which needs to be – I’ve said this before – directly targeted. Zionism needs to be directly targeted wherever it is. And it’s not just in Israel it’s elsewhere. And people shy away from that. They say, well, you can’t be talking about that, because that’s somehow – it relates to the Jews or something.

Of course it doesn’t. This is a political movement which has a particular set of political commitments. And we have to face the fact that it plays a negative role in this country and in many other countries too. And it needs to be dismantled, not just the appalling crimes of the Israeli government. But the Zionist movement itself, which of course exists. And the condition of its existence is that it helps to support and launder the image of the Israeli government’s activities in the [occupied] territories. Not just to launder the image, but to directly participate in the activities of the government in terms of settlements. The WZO has a settlement division. The JNF is involved in expropriation of Palestinian land, as everybody who’s read anything about these things will know. So I think that what my work points to is the need politically to confront the Zionist movement wherever it raises its head. And that’s an uncomfortable message for some on the left. The road to socialism in Britain, if there is such a thing, goes through the Zionist movement. It doesn’t go around it, it goes through the Zionist movement. You can’t go around Zionism.

Asa Winstanley: Absolutely. I remember when we first met David, in 2011, in Birmingham, during the Raed Salah appeal case. So for our viewers and listeners: Raed Salah is a Palestinian leader, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He was the leader of a branch of the Islamic Movement. What happened is, after years of targeting of him by the Israeli government his group was basically banned. And he’s now in prison because of that. But he was a leader of activism, mainly in Jerusalem, of resisting Israeli settlement activities and Israeli encroachment, especially against Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, especially the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. And because he was such a powerful leader, he was targeted by the Israeli government for this kind of political persecution. And in 2011 he came to the UK, and he came on basically, a small tour, he did some speaking events. And when he came to the country he was expelled. He was expelled by the then Home Secretary Theresa May. And he appealed this and you acted as a kind of witness for his defense. And at the time, what happened, in the end, was he won that case. He was kept under house arrest for the better part of a year, but he was not expelled from the country.

And he did that to make a political point. It wasn’t that he wanted to stay here as an asylum seeker. He wanted to go back to his home in Palestine. But he didn’t want to be expelled, so that that would then be used against him when he went back to Palestine, the Israeli authorities would use that against him.

You’ve talked about the Zionist movement and the Israel lobby and one of those organizations which I know you’ve spoken of as being an informal part of the Zionist movement is the CST, the Community Security Trust. And they were instrumental in getting Raed Salah banned by the British government at the time. And they acted in a really deceitful way because they forwarded information on Raed Salah to the Home Office which included outright fabrication. There was a poem of his that he’d written, which they – or somebody – altered to insert the words “You Jews” to make it look like an anti-Jewish poem. Where actually if you looked at the original poem it was about condemning Israeli atrocities and Israeli bombings of mosques and so forth. Do you think the CST has been basically holding a grudge against you all this time? Because we know that they’ve been involved in this more recent campaign against you.

David Miller: I was an expert witness for the defense. And so I provided evidence on the CST and its inability or unwillingness to tell the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It provided evidence – including evidence on anti-Zionist Jews and others, and false evidence, as it turned out – to the home office and the border agency, which directly resulted in the order being issued that he wasn’t allowed to come into the country. Now he had come into the country anyhow the previous day and they missed them. They were a bit embarrassed about that.

This issue came to the attention of the Home Office, as we saw in the documents, this came to the attention of the Border Agency and of the Home Office by a post on Harry’s Place, the Islamophobic blog. Now, quite often I hear people on the left say, Well Harry’s Place is just a kind of horrible blog and you might not like it, but it doesn’t have any effect it’s just daft people saying horrible stuff. That’s true, it is daft people saying horrible stuff, racist stuff about Muslims especially. But this is how it works: Guido Fawkes, Harry’s Place, the far-right blogs, are taken up by actually existing civil servants and passed on and actioned effectively as intelligence. And that was what brought the issue to the attention of the Border Agency and they then approached the CST. The CST provided them with information which was distorted and included, as you said, fabrications. And that revealed to us that there was something wrong with the CST. We knew that they were engaged effectively in spying on the Palestinian solidarity movement and indeed on anti-Zionist Jews.

I quoted in my statements the examples from Jewish anti-Zionist groups who have been manhandled and removed from events by CST thugs. But we didn’t know how far that went. I think you revealed in some of the reporting actually, at the time, its links with Mossad and the like. And that was very important to start to understand the CST in that way.

Now my understanding of the CST has been enhanced by understanding what happened in the US from the 1940s – actually from before the 1940s, with the experience of the obvious comparator organization in the US, which of course is the Anti-Defamation League, which does almost exactly the same thing as the CST does here.

It’s been involved since the 1940s and been pursuing this idea of a New Anti-Semitism, that Arabs are anti-Semites before the creation of the state of Israel. And at the time of McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee’s inquiries, was engaged in providing intelligence to the FBI. And indeed to the forerunner of the Mossad before it was created, and then afterward directly to Mossad. This is well known that this is what they do. And one sees the CST in very much the same role here as having connections with Mossad as you reported, and also very close connections with the police and the security services in this country. And one of the things that you can see that they’ve done is to attack people who are supporters of Palestine and to attack anti-Zionist Jews. That’s an important thing to say that they’re effectively an intelligence agency gathering material to use against their enemies. But I think the other thing we don’t realize and recognize as much as perhaps we should is that the reason that they had this contact with Mossad, which was revealed by Tony Lerman – whose memoir, The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist, is recommended reading for everyone who wants to understand Zionism – was that they had a role with Mossad in the discussions in the early part of the 2000s about how to combat anti-Semitism worldwide.

And there was a coordinating forum against anti-Semitism, which was an Israeli government body, which Sharansky was involved in. And then they set up the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. And this coordinating forum was an Israeli government body, but it also had the World Jewish Congress, it had the ADL, it had the CST involved in it. And this is the place where they came up with the idea that they would focus especially on blurring together anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Now that led ineluctably and inexorably to the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism in 2004. And then when that failed as a strategy, to lodging it with the IHRA in order that they then in 2016 emerged, weapon in hand to take on Corbyn. So the CST has been core to all of that as well. Core to actively pursuing and helping the interests of the Israeli state. It says in its defense, We are a British Jewish organization, we’ve got nothing to do with Israel.

That’s a lie. And everyone should know that. And people on the left don’t appreciate that. That’s a lie. And I’d be very happy for the CST to sue me, if they wanted to, over that.

They know where I am. So they can come and get me. So yes, the CST has had some animus against me. We’ve had the occasional interaction on Twitter and the like. They don’t really like to go into detail, because when they get to the detail they can’t really justify what they’re doing. But there we are. They complained about me.

My career started at the University of Glasgow. I went to the University of Sterling for 10 years, then the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow for eight years, then the University of Bath from 2012 to 2018. And I got the job in Bristol in 2018. I started there in September, and in February I gave a lecture for this course that I’d been asked to teach called Harms of the Powerful, which is about state crimes and about corporate crime. And one of the lectures I gave was about Islamophobia. And I talked about this notion of the five pillars of Islamophobia, where part of one of the pillars is “Parts of the Zionist movement.” We phrased it like that because we were focusing entirely at that stage on the concrete ways in which Zionist funders were engaged in funding key Islamophobic organizations. Meaning neoconservative think tanks but also elements of the far right. So we know for example, the funding that’s gone through the Middle East Forum in the US to Tommy Robinson’s legal fees etc. Those kinds of funding connections which are well known if you look. And so I talked about that: parts of the Zionist movement and the CST objected to this. They got a copy of some of the slides from a presentation from a couple of students who contacted them anonymously. And they wrote in saying that I was an anti-Semite but also that they were really very cross that – they claimed that I had referred to them as being part of the Zionist movement which is Islamophobic.

Now, I had done no such thing. At that stage of the argument I was saying nothing at all about the CST in relation to Islamophobia. I might say something more about it now, but at the time all we were talking about was the empirical research we had at the time of the Zionist funders who have funded well-known Islamophobic organizations in this country and in many other countries too. We then went on to do more research. Sarah Marusek published some of this work, which is excellent. Hilary Aked has done the same thing. I’ve done bits and pieces of it as well. We find that many of the Zionist funders who had funded Islamophobic activities had also – big surprise – funded the settlements in the West Bank directly. So they funded specific settlements and there’s a lot of money going from both Britain and the US to specific settlements. They’d funded the infrastructure of occupation through the IDF [Israeli army]. In the US it’s called the Friends of the IDF. In the UK it’s called the Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers. And then they fund also some of the National Institutions – the Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organization, etc. And then also nongovernmental organizations which are involved directly in settlement activity in East Jerusalem. Such as the Jerusalem Foundation, tons of money going into that, which is engaged in effectively illegal activities across the Green Line.

So we started by saying: some of the Zionist funders are funding Islamophobia. And then we said, look, quite a lot of them are also funding illegal settlements. And the CST didn’t like this at all and wanted me to say that I was wrong and that the CST was not Islamophobic. Of course, I wasn’t saying that they were Islamophobic. All I was saying was, these are the parts of the Zionist movement which are involved in funding Islamophobia, but more generally, this is what the Zionist movement is. And they got that confused, because they read the slides and they conjectured what I must be saying and tried to get me sacked as a result. And effectively the complaint [by] them was thrown out straight away because they didn’t have any locus.

They’re a third-party organization, they’re not students. It was said that the students themselves could complain even anonymously if they wanted to. The students didn’t want to apparently and so that complaint was kicked out. So the CST then – and remember that they don’t like the idea that we say that they work together – but the CST then approached the Union of Jewish Students in London, which is the umbrella body, it’s like Hillel in the US. In fact, the formal organization which runs the [Union of Jewish Students] is called the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation [like] in the USA, you can see its origins. And the UJS is the umbrella body for all the local Jewish societies, sometimes called Israel societies, on campuses throughout the UK.

And they approached the UJS and said, Look, do you fancy writing a letter to complain about this Miller chap? And they said, Yeah, we’ll do that. They wrote the letter and they emailed the president of Bristol JSoc and got her to put her name to it as well. And they then sent the complaint in and that was accepted because she was a student. One day this will all become public I guess, but if you look back at the letter they sent in complaint – remember I’d started in September 2018, the lecture was in February 2019.

In April they made their complaint. And they complained about five things that I had said or written. One of them had happened after September 2018 i.e. when I was in post in Bristol, all the rest had been from before that. And one [thing] they complained about was from 2013. It was an article we’d written about the Zionist movement in 2013. Now, of course this is preposterous, they can’t be complaining about stuff which I’ve written five years before I started working there. And none of this stuff was to do with my work at Bristol, it was all to do with public statements outside my work at Bristol and [in] the policies of the university would have had no locus. And in any case it was a breach of the policies because a complaint is supposed to be taken within 90 days of the behavior complained of and none of it was within 90 days. And so the complaint was accepted. And then the university had meetings with the president of the JSoc at which UJS and CST people were present, extraordinarily.

And the university encouraged them to submit more evidence. And the single piece of evidence that they submitted which was within the 90 days which did relate to my teaching practice was an essay question that I had set for the Harms of the Powerful course. And the essay question was, the students were asked to give a critical analysis of the extent to which corporate lobbying was a form of corporate harm. And it was submitted that while [this] didn’t express any anti-Semitic tropes, might invite anti-Semitic tropes by way of answer.

Asa Winstanley: That’s a bit like when they accused Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism because he had criticized banks.

David Miller: Yeah. Right.

Asa Winstanley: The person saying that has more questions to answer about anti-Semitism I think.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yes!

David Miller: So that complaint came in and that was rejected by the university at the first stage, because it was manifestly ridiculous. But then they appealed and the university said to them, well, would you like to stop your appeal for a minute while we decide whether we introduce the IHRA definition [of anti-Semitism]? And they said, Oh yes, we’ll do that, thank you very much. And then the JSoc lobbied for the IHRA definition to be brought in. The university was just going to adopt the definition and not the examples. They had a demo outside of 15 kids and the university crumpled and adopted the full definition with all the examples. And then they reactivated the complaint in January 2020 under the new rules.

So they changed the rules and that was apparently deemed fair. But even after that, when they appointed a QC to investigate me, the QC found that none of my comments had gone anywhere near the question of anti-Semitism or racism against Jews, or harassment, or breached the Equality Act, all those things. Very, very clear, total exoneration. And that was a report which was submitted in December 2020. And the university then decided it was gonna think about publishing that and it produced a shortened version of that. And then I gave a talk on 13 February where I talked about having been attacked and complained about – that’s the words I used – by the JSoc and by the Union of Jewish Students. And that’s when there was a big reaction to that statement. And the university then decided it wasn’t going to publish this report.

So I was in that position of being accused of anti-Semitism for my comments about being attacked and complained about – which is simply, of course, a factual statement. And I wasn’t able to say, well, actually, I’ve been entirely exonerated. And this is just absurd. So I was forced not to refer to this report, which was completely unfair. It meant that it was open season on me and that any number of organizations, Zionist organizations – and if you count the numbers that did this is something like 15 or 16 different Zionist organizations, probably many more than most people know exist in the country – who complained about me. And the APPG on Anti-Semitism, that’s the All-Party Parliamentary Group, the Zionist Federation, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Community Security Trust etc. And I was always fighting back against this with one arm behind my back. And then I made several statements in response to the press and wrote an article for The Electronic Intifada, my first article for Electronic intifada. Then I was put under investigation by the university for my statements. So I was unable to make any statements.

Asa Winstanley: You were put under investigation by the university because you’d written an article for us?

David Miller: That was part of the reason. Yeah.

Asa Winstanley: Oh boy. Wow.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: They were looking for anything at this point.

Asa Winstanley: It sounds to me like the university colluded with the Israel lobby against you.

David Miller: I’m not sure I would put that construction on it straightforwardly. They don’t have any conception that I’ve been subjected to, effectively, at least two years of harassment, bullying and intimidation. Which would breach the university’s own guidelines on harassment and bullying and which could have been turned into a complaint. And so I’ve raised the issue of Kathleen Stock here because I see that she is a philosophy professor who has had what we might call gender-critical views.

The University [of Sussex] has defended her academic freedom and said that some of these activities against her have amounted to a campaign of harassment and bullying, which has included calls for her to be sacked. Well, the University of Bristol could well have instituted an inquiry into the activities which were targeted against me. Which was, one, that they were calling for me to be sacked, and two, they were defaming me by calling me an anti-Semite, which the university already knew was false because they’d hired an expensive QC to determine that and they knew the results of that.

But that’s not how the university decided to respond. It instead tried to ignore the campaign of harassment and intimidation and tried to focus just on the words that I said in February as the full amount of the claims that I am supposed to answer for.

Asa Winstanley: So you’ve mentioned the report from the QC. The report from the lawyer that the university mentioned in its statement in which it fired you. It said that a report from the QC found that you had not said anything illegal. But you’ve said to me, and you’ve said again today, that it actually went further than that and that it actually exonerated you of anti-Semitism. The university hasn’t released that document. So you’re saying the fact that they haven’t released it is because simply that it exonerated you and they didn’t want that to be known?

David Miller: Well there are some things that I’m not at liberty to say. Actually I’m not really at liberty to say that the report exonerated me of anti-Semitism. But I’ve decided that I will be saying that because there is a public interest in me saying that, because the university has given an account of what’s in the report which is not accurate. In the sense that it says only that I’ve been cleared of making unlawful statements.

Asa Winstanley: So you have seen that report then?

David Miller: Yes. And let me be clear as well. You mentioned a report, there isn’t just one report, there are two reports. So when I was talking about the report submitted in December, this is a totally separate report from the report which was produced as a result of, or after, the statements I made in February. So there are two separate reports by a QC, both of them entirely exonerate me specifically of anti-Semitism and specifically on the question of harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

So this is not just a question of my statements being lawful, but specifically of there being no case to answer in terms of anti-Semitism. And that’s quite important for me for my reputation. But the problem, of course, is that people can’t see these reports, that they remain secret. The university has refused to release them. And they refuse even to tell the truth about what’s in those reports. Even to admit the existence of the first report. And to tell the truth about what’s in the second report.

Asa Winstanley: You mentioned the article that you wrote for us. I’m very sorry to hear that it got you into trouble. But it was an excellent article and in that article in February you wrote for us that “Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere, by the state of Israel and its advocates.” And I think it’s fair to say that some on the left accused you of exaggerating. But this month when you were fired, The Jewish Chronicle, which is Britain’s leading anti-Palestinian newspaper, they welcomed your sacking with a front-page story. But they weren’t gleeful. They sort of refused to accept yes for an answer and they’re demanding more. And so the front-page story is “Miller is gone, but he is only the tip of the iceberg.” And the story listed some of the academics that have supported you at 74 separate British higher education bodies. And it talks about more than 200 academics who’ve committed this terrible crime of signing a statement in support of you and your right to express your views against Zionism, Israel’s settler-colonial racist ideology. So the paper’s editorial also argued that “Miller’s sacking should be the beginning and not the end.”

So it looks to me like the Israel lobby is mounting a full-blown attack on British universities. And it really bears out what you wrote for us in the article about an assault on the public sphere by the state of Israel. It looks to me like an attempt to mount a full on purge of British universities. I don’t want to exaggerate, I don’t think they’re going to be successful in getting everyone out. They’re complaining because it took them so long to get rid of you! The Jewish Chronicle is saying, Oh, we shouldn’t accept this, because Bristol has acted terribly because it took them the best part of a year to get rid of you, or two years or whenever they’re dating it from. What do you think we can do to resist it? How successful, how much of a victory is this for them? And how successful are they going to be in attempting to purge British universities?

David Miller: As Nora mentioned at the beginning, this is something which is not unheard of in the US. There’s lots of examples: We can go back to Norman Finkelstein and before that Joseph Massad, Steve Salaita, Marc Lamont Hill and a full cast of others. And there’s been many stories in the press in the last couple of months alone in Canada and in the US.

This is unprecedented in the UK. It’s never happened before that any lobby group has managed to – of any kind – has managed to get rid of a member of staff who’s a fully fledged professor.

Asa Winstanley: But they have managed to stop an academic conference.

David Miller: Oh they’ve managed to do lots of things like that, yeah. But this is unprecedented, right?

Asa Winstanley: Yeah, definitely.

David Miller: But I’m not alone. So while they’ve decided to target me – they don’t like the kind of things that I say and the research that I do and the facts that I find out – they’re doing [the same thing] elsewhere. I was involved in a meeting two nights ago where it became apparent that there have been, I think it was said 30 complaints at the University of Warwick against something like 25 separate members of staff and students by UJS/JSoc-related people.

And that’s a huge assault on the University of Warwick which had previously been through another complaint some years ago against Goldie Osuri which is a matter of public record. And so that’s another example. There are cases in other universities some of which I’m not aware of and I’ve just heard about in the last few days.

I know of cases in Birmingham, in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, in Leeds and in other places too, where people have been complained about. Some of them have been complained about simply for tweeting in support of me. And of course there have been a whole set of trolls set to work on everyone who signed letters and supported me such that there’s a Twitter account called “Tony Benn University,” an anonymous Twitter account, which has effectively called for everyone who’s signed letters and supported me to be sacked.

This is a disgraceful assault on academic freedom, and an attempt to intimidate members of staff from speaking out or even from holding views and expressing them in public about Palestine. So this is a serious attack on academic freedom and academics. But it’s not only that. The quote you gave there was about the public sphere. I wasn’t just talking about the universities. I’m talking about the schools. I’m talking about trade unions. I’m talking about local government. It’s the whole of the public sphere that they’re going for. We saw earlier this year in May with the assault on Gaza: settler-colonialism laid bare before everyone’s eyes in the world.

People in the schools in this country, where kids were outraged and wanted to do things. They wanted to raise money for the Palestinians, or they wanted to demonstrate in support of the Palestinians. And they wanted to discuss the question in class. And time after time schools reacted in a way which tried to shut down debate. So there was viral footage going round of kids walking out of school with Palestinian flags. Or there was video footage of teachers, appallingly telling kids off for wanting to raise the issue and accusing them of anti-Semitism with no evidence. And there was even a case of a teacher or a school insisting that money shouldn’t go to the Palestinians, but should be divided between Israel and the Palestinians. Truly extraordinary. So the schools are part of that as well.

And you see an assault backed up by government. So the government has written to the universities several times – [government minister] Robert Jenrick did that, others did too – to try to have me sacked, but they’ve been doing the same with schools. Gavin Williamson, when he was education secretary, wrote to all schools asking them to have balanced debates on Israel and Palestine and suggesting three organizations that the school should bring into to have these debates.

CST of course was one of them. But two others were organizations both of which are Zionist organizations and one of them has direct contacts and an overlapping membership with the IDF [Israeli army] and the Israeli government. I mean, truly extraordinary. So this is an assault on all the public sphere. It’s not just happening in this country. It’s been happening as Nora knows too well in the US, but also in France and Germany there have been similar processes. They tried out what they tried against Corbyn in France and Germany first. The assault on Die Linke [Left Party] in Germany, the assault on even candidates from right-wing parties in France, who had to withdraw after they made statements about Palestine or BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] which didn’t meet the approval of the local affiliate of the Zionist movement in France.

So this is a very serious attempt to constrain public debate. And the reason they’re doing this is because they feel threatened, because overwhelmingly public opinion in the world, including Jewish public opinion, is moving in the other direction – away from supporting what happens in Israel and what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. They feel threatened, they feel the only thing they can do is to intimidate people from speaking out and to have them sacked, to stop you from speaking out yourself.

We see the Labour Party under Keir Starmer and the Labour Party leadership elections after Corbyn left. And all the candidates agreed to the Board of Deputies’ ridiculous 10-point program, which is a charter for the intimidation of the party. And that’s been very, very successful.

Asa Winstanley: And they all agreed that they were Zionists. They all said, Oh yeah, I’m a Zionist. Oh sorry, except for Keir Starmer who said he was a supporter of Zionism without qualification.

David Miller: But yet at the same time, even though lots of people, thousands of people have left the party or been expelled – and of course, I’ve left as well – the conference just the other day overwhelmingly passed a reasonably decent pro-Palestinian motion talking about Israel is an apartheid state, talking about boycott, divestment and sanctions etc. And so public opinion moves one direction while at the elite level, which is what they’re trying to do, they intimidate.

And they’ve captured the Labour Party. They’re trying to capture academia. And I wouldn’t say that they’ve got no chance of going further, because they have got a chance of going further.

But the question is, when people will have the confidence, and institutions as a result of that have the confidence, to fight back and to say no to this. I think we’re in the foothills of this. This is the beginning. As The Jewish Chronicle says, this is the beginning. And they think that it’s gonna go all their way.

I’m afraid it’s not. And we will win this, but it might take us a little while to win this. Personally speaking I will be part of the winning of this. I have been doing a lot of research over the last three years. I have a lot of research ready to publish. And there’s much more coming on the settlements, on the Zionist movement itself, on the way in which it infiltrates different areas of public debate. For example, in the interfaith industry, we’ve been doing a lot of work on that. And I know people on the left have smirked a bit at this: Oh he thinks that even chicken soup is a Zionist plot, when a Zionist organization, interfaith organization went into East London Mosque and cooked chicken soup.

But the thing is, it is a Zionist plot. I mean, this is a Zionist organization, trying to infiltrate the British Muslim community and to capture them to normalize Zionism within the British Muslim community. Because they recognize – and they’re right to recognize – that the Muslim community is a threat to Israel’s policies because of what happened in this country. It’s also true in other countries – but in this country especially, after the invasion of Iraq. In the run-up to and after the invasion of Iraq we had a movement on the streets in this country which united the left, the radical left, and the Muslim community in a way which had never happened before.

Whenever I talk about this I want to give all credit to the people in Stop the War and in the Muslim Association of Britain, who made that breakthrough. It was MAB really who did it and if you look back at the history books, you can see that MAB said, look this demonstration has got to be about Palestine. And some of the people in the rest of Stop the War, people for whom we all should have the most time and respect: [Stop the War Coalition leaders] Lindsey [German] and John [Rees] and Chris Nineham etc. They weren’t necessarily keen on this [but] it won the day and it was the right decision.

And that was the moment where a new movement emerged where it became apparent that the left could work with Muslims, that we could be a united front and that really terrified the denizens of the British secret state and indeed the Zionist movement. That’s why they focus in particular on their two obsessions, which is left-wing anti-Semitism and Islamic anti-Semitism. And these are things which are entirely concocted out of their imagination. Sorry, not just their imagination – concocted out of their imagination and a long period of concrete planning through the [Israeli government’s] Global Forum for Countering Antisemitism.

Whereas if you look back at those events, the conferences started in 2007, they set out very clearly what they were going to do, how they’re going to target Muslims, how they’re going to target the left, how they’re going to target Europe or Latin America, wherever. And there’s a lot of material in those papers from those conferences, much of which of course, is available for all you budding researchers on the Internet Archive. And they’ve spent a lot of time and effort doing that and they want to promote this idea, the Red-Green conspiracy theory which they like which some of the French intellectuals are into.

Bat Ye’or, of course, her “Eurabia” thesis, that the Muslims are going to take over Europe and we can’t do that, we have to defend against the Muslims, because they’re going to outbreed us etc. And that’s stuff which comes from a Zionist conception of the world. Bat Ye’or, of course, was herself an asset of Mossad along [with] her husband, David Littman, involved in the evacuation of Jews from Egypt back in the day.

So this is a long-term strategy for them. And we shouldn’t be scared of pointing it out if we can show that it’s the case, which, when you do research, you can. Just to reiterate this: I come to this not from the point of view that the Zionists must be bad theoretically. I’m not opposed to theory, I make use of theory, but I come to this from empirical research. And you follow the thread, you follow who does what, what the context of this is and you put that together into a better understanding of the world. And once you do that, you start to see a whole load of things which people are not aware of.

I saw quite a nice article today by Mike Wayne, for Counterfire defending the idea that people should do research and might come up with things in the research which people find shocking because they don’t know them. And yet I find lots of things which are shocking and sometimes when I say to people about them, they are shocked, because they don’t know and they think, Oh, he must be just making this up.

I saw someone the other day tweeting about me saying, oh well his research is not evidence based. Of anyone who’s doing research on this issue, I’m not the one you can say that of! If there is anyone who’s not doing evidence-based research I don’t know who they are, but certainly I’m not. And all the stuff I’ve been saying is evidence based. And if you want me to give you the sources, I can give them to you, I can point you to the sources. And that’s the thing which they find very difficult to deal with. The criticisms I’ve had from all these organizations from the CST, from many others, are criticisms which never engage the factual questions.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Never

David Miller: Never challenge the factual questions. When people say to me, Oh, well you shouldn’t have said that the UJS is a Zionist organization. And I say, Well why is that? The reason I say it’s a Zionist organization is because it is! It’s formally a member of the Zioninst movement in this structure I mentioned earlier.

Its constitution requires it to be pro-Israel. It’s a member of the World Union of Jewish Students in which it has an executive seat reserved, which is a member of the WZO where they can send delegates to the Zionist Congress. Even more than that, its core funding comes from the United Jewish Israel Appeal, the main fundraising body for Israel in the UK, which, as many people won’t know, is the UK affiliate of Keren Hayesod, one of the four National Institutions based in National Institutions House in Israel. Now all this stuff sounds complicated and there’s lots of different organizations and it’s difficult to get your head around. Yeah, I get that. But you know, these things are facts.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: David, we only have a couple minutes left. I wanted to ask you about the appeal and how people can support you. But first, before you answer that, if you could talk a little bit about what your advice is for other scholars, students [and] activists who are facing threats and smear campaigns by the Israel lobby and the Zionist movements. What is your advice to them as they see what’s happening to you?

David Miller: Well it’d be foolish of me to say do what I did, because look where I ended! But in the end all we have to defend ourselves is the truth. And we need to be telling the truth and showing the evidence that it is the truth. That means it’s writing and debating more. And I think there are debates to be had on the left as well about the extent to which we should confine our talk about Israel to the apartheid regime of Israel, or settler-colonialism, or Zionism being racism.

But I think it’s very important that we understand that Zionism is an actually existing thing happening in our politics. And it will continue to do so unless we – to use the words that are used on the University of Bristol statement about the Black Lives Matter protests – until we eradicate and dismantle racism, which means, of course, eradicating and dismantling Zionism as an ideology. And just to be clear about that, I’m not suggesting dismantling Zionism as an ideology in the sense of physical violence. I’m talking about the ideas. How the conditions underlying the existence of Zionism as an ideology. In the same ways that we talked about dismantling apartheid. The ideology of apartheid is more or less gone now. The ideology of Protestant supremacism in the 26 counties in the south of Ireland doesn’t exist anymore. Seventy or 80 years ago it was a very strong ideology. It only exists in the north still.

This is about dismantling ideology. The same way as we would talk about dismantling racism. Racism is not just a set of ideas. It has material forms and practices that it requires and uses to reproduce itself. If you want to dismantle Islamophobia as a form of racism you have to dismantle the counterterrorism apparatus. And just in the same way, if you want to dismantle and eradicate Zionism, you have to dismantle the apparatus which puts it in place, and that’s the organizations which do that.

So yes, we have to defend ourselves with the truth and by doing more evidence-based research. I will do more of that, but I want other people to be involved in it. There are lots of other people doing research like this. Let’s get that research out there. And let’s reassure those bodies who can defend us, the trade unions and indeed, the universities, that they can make statements like the University of Sussex has made in relation to the question of the gender-critical philosopher. And that that would be appropriate. It does mean that you have to say that these are not just groups of Jewish students.

These are groups which have a particular political agenda and we need to understand that, otherwise all that will happen is they will say around the country, Oh I’m hurt by someone saying something anti-Zionist. And that’s not good enough. It’s not a way to move towards a proper debate about Israel and Palestine.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And give us the info on the Support David Miller campaign and what the next step is.

David Miller: So the next step for me is an appeal in the university process. And after that, if that fails, then there’s an employment tribunal. And there are other potential legal avenues which I’m exploring with my legal advisers. The Support Miller campaign is at supportmiller.org. And you can go and have a look at the material there and there are things you can do.

Of course that petition is flying around with 20,000 signatories. I think it’s quite dramatic the number of people who have signed that, especially compared to the petitions from earlier in the year which were calling for me to be sacked, which had less than half of that number and we’re only at the stage of it’s still increasing. So there’s lots of things people can do. I’m more than happy to help people to work out what the best thing to do is. They can contact me on my email which is available online.

Asa Winstanley: Thanks for joining us on The Electronic Intifada Podcast David.

David Miller: Thank you.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thanks so much, David.

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).