A professor at a British university is facing calls that he be fired by one of the lobbies his research investigates.
For the past two years – emboldened by successes in driving purges from the Labour Party – the Israel lobby has made Miller a primary target. The main weapon is the usual one: false allegations of anti-Semitism because his work casts a critical eye on Israel and its supporters.
Last week several Israel lobby groups called for Miller to be sacked for his opposition to Zionism. They include the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Zionist Federation, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Community Security Trust.
And they’ve received some backing from politicians.
But Miller has also received support, including from academic colleagues.Jeffrey Bowers, another University of Bristol professor, told The Electronic Intifada that his Twitter account had been suspended after he posted in support of Miller. He said Twitter had given him no reason, and he could think of none other than the Miller post.
Left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour called for Jewish supporters to sign a letter backing Miller.
The mayor of Bristol, Labour’s Marvin Rees, told pro-Israel newspaper The Jewish Chronicle last week that he had met with some of those campaigning to have Miller sacked and was planning on “meeting the university to discuss this matter.”
Rees did not reply to a request for comment about what appears to be direct political interference in matters of academic freedom and autonomy.
“Intellectual freedom is fundamental”
The University of Bristol said in a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada that it was “unable to comment on complaints made about individual members of staff,” but then contradicted that by adding “we do not endorse the comments made by Professor Miller about our Jewish students.”
He added that the Israel lobby “is keen to maintain the fiction that its campaign of subversion on British campuses on behalf of a violent foreign regime is the work of independent students who are genuinely distressed.”
Undercover footage shot by Al Jazeera revealed in 2017 that the UJS is funded by the Israeli embassy in London.The University of Bristol said the institution had been “working closely with Jewish students to understand their specific concerns and worries.”
It said one outcome of these discussions was that the university adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in December 2019.
Asked if its alleged commitment to free speech included the freedom to oppose Zionism, the university did not respond directly.
The spokesperson said instead that “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.”
The university said that “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,” the spokesperson asserted.
This statement follows the playbook of other universities that have characterized speech supporting Palestinian rights and critical of Israel’s racism as somehow repugnant, even if it ultimately had to be tolerated in the name of free speech.
“I am a Zionist”
Calls on campus to sack David Miller are being led by student journalist and pro-Israel activist Sabrina Miller. She set up a petition last week calling to get the professor fired.
She wrote an article in October demanding the university sack him for making “controversial comments about Israel and Zionism” which made her “feel increasingly uncomfortable.”In the article she showed photos of slides from one of the professor’s lectures about the Zionist movement, the Israel lobby and their role in the Islamophobia network.
She also implied that the photos were obtained by “a Jewish student in his class, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.” She quoted the student as being “scared because I am one voice.”
But David Miller told The Electronic Intifada that Sabrina Miller attended one of his classes, apparently for the purposes of finding something to attack him with, despite not being signed up for any of his courses.
Miller is a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies, but Sabrina Miller is a third-year English student.
In her article, Sabrina Miller attacks David Miller’s work as “grimly reminiscent of anti-Semitic tropes” and claims that his view that the Zionist movement exists and has power is “invented.”
But in reality she herself is part of the Zionist movement. She participated in an online debate streamed by the Israel Advocacy Movement last year in which she made clear, “I am a Zionist.”
Sabrina Miller did not reply to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Labour appears to be trying to outflank the ruling Conservative Party from the right on the issue.
Education minister Gavin Williamson was last week accused by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of being “astonishingly hypocritical” over his new plan to give greater powers to the higher education regulator and appoint a new “free-speech champion.”
Williamson is himself a champion of the misleading International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism, which is used by Israel and its lobby to chill and punish free speech.
PSC’s director Ben Jamal told the Morning Star newspaper that “if Williamson were serious about protecting freedom of speech” then he “would stop pressuring universities to adopt” the definition.
But Labour’s education spokesperson Kate Green didn’t even bother to pay lip service to free speech, seemingly joining in the campaign to have Miller fired.
Green told HuffPost UK that Williamson had “started an argument about free speech” that “risks protecting statements” she claimed were “anti-Semitic and deeply offensive.”
Lobby calls for censorship
The research that Miller has conducted and commissioned in Spinwatch reports has detailed the pro-Israel lobbying activities of the very same groups now demanding he be fired.Jewish Labour Movement chair Mike Katz called Miller’s opposition to Zionism “exhausting” and said that the university’s “silence on this is deafening.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote to the university’s president claiming that Miller’s opposition to Zionism is “hate speech” and demanding they “end Professor Miller’s tenure.”
The Zionist Federation said that by calling for an end to Zionism, Miller had “abused his position.” They called for the university to take “meaningful steps” against him.
The Community Security Trust demanded “an urgent meeting” with the university, saying it had failed to meet its “responsibility” to fire Miller. The lobby group said it had first “raised concerns” about him two years ago.
Sabrina Miller’s petition against David Miller has been signed by 4,700 people.
A petition in support of David Miller’s academic freedom has been organized by Palestine solidarity activist Tony Greenstein and has been signed by 1,900 people.
- David Miller
- University of Bristol
- Labour Party
- Labour witch hunt
- Board of Deputies of British Jews
- Jewish Labour Movement
- Community Security Trust
- Jeffrey Bowers
- Jewish Voice for Labour
- Marvin Rees
- Rosie Duffield
- Hugh Brady
- Union of Jewish Students
- Sabrina Miller
- Israel Advocacy Movement
- Gavin Williamson
- Palestine Solidarity Campaign
- Ben Jamal
- IHRA definition of anti-Semitism
- Kate Green
- Mike Katz
- Tony Greenstein