A number of pro-Israel organisations are trying to get the University of Bristol to sack anti-Zionist academic David Miller.
The furore erupted after Miller, who is an expert on propaganda and corporate and state lobbies, called for an end to Zionism a few weeks ago.
The university’s Jewish Society then called on it to take concrete steps to “protect Jewish students from hatred and racism both physically and digitally.”
And several Israel lobby groups subsequently called for Miller to be sacked for his opposition to Zionism. They included the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Zionist Federation, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Community Security Trust.
Marie van der Zyl, President Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote to Professor Hugh Brady, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol, saying: “It is with regret that we have felt the need to write to you again concerning the ongoing behaviour of an academic at your institution, whose increasingly hysterical attacks on British Jewish organisations are now raising the prospect of real physical harm…
“He has also referred to ‘the Zionist movement’ as ‘the enemy of world peace,’ saying that it must be ‘directly targeted.’ Given that the majority of this country’s Jewish community is Zionist and obviously will be the first thought when people think of ‘the Zionist movement,’ we have to wonder exactly what being ‘directly targeted’ means. Most recently, as reported widely, he accused Jewish students on UK university campuses – including, of course, Bristol University, of ‘being used as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.
“Like any academic institution in this country, you will doubtless be concerned with the importance of freedom of speech. But in the UK, unlike the US, there has always been an understanding that free speech should not include hate speech – and we believe Professor Miller’s statements fall unquestionably into that latter category.”
But Miller has doubled down on his rhetoric. He wrote in the Electronic Intifada: “Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere by the state of Israel and its advocates. Meaningful conversations about anti-Black racism and Islamophobia have been drowned out by a concerted lobbying campaign targeting universities, political parties, the equalities regulator and public institutions all over the country… And this week, Israel’s lobby in Britain has trained its guns on me.
“In doing so, it is reviving its two-year campaign to have me sacked from the University of Bristol, where I teach political sociology, and in particular about corporate and state power, lobbying tactics and Islamophobia.
“I established the UK’s lobbying watchdog, Spinwatch, which has spent 15 years tracking the nefarious effects of the fossil fuel lobby, the pharmaceutical lobby, the tobacco lobby, as well as state lobbies that promote Islamophobia, such as those of Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
“And it is this exposure of Zionist Islamophobia that most terrifies Israel’s fanatical advocates, particularly as the Israel lobby repositions itself from defending against accusations of Israeli war crimes to an offensive designed to rebrand Zionism – absurdly and ahistorically – as a “Jewish liberation movement. Israel’s lobby is busily stealing the language of Black liberation to justify ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid.”
Miller has also received support from Jews. The left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour called for Jewish supporters to sign a letter backing Miller.
It said: “As you are aware, Professor David Miller is under attack for critical remarks he has made about Zionism. Demands are being made for his dismissal from the University of Bristol.
“In December 2019, the university adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Antony Lerman, has noted that the IHRA definition prevents Palestinians from describing their experience of Zionism and compromises the fight against antisemitism.
“The author of the definition, US lawyer Kenneth Stern, has warned that it runs the risk of chilling free speech on campus. Earlier this month, this threat to academic freedom caused University College London to reject the IHRA definition.”
Meanwhile, the University of Bristol said in a statement that it was “unable to comment on complaints made about individual members of staff,” but added “we do not endorse the comments made by Professor Miller about our Jewish students.”