Middle East Monitor / March 3, 2021
Two hundred academics from Britain and the US have signed an open letter defending prominent British Professor David Miller who is under attack for criticising the Zionist state of Israel. Pro-Israel groups describing themselves as “proud Zionists” have been leading a vicious campaign to have the sociology professor sacked from his post at the University of Bristol.
Miller has spent 15 years tracking the nefarious effects of the fossil fuel lobby, the pharmaceutical lobby, and the tobacco lobby, as well as state lobbies that promote Islamophobia, such as those of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
However, it is Miller’s work in exposing the work of the pro-Israel lobby that has angered groups like the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which is leading the campaign against him. The union describes itself as a “proud” Zionist organisation. Its own constitution commits members of the UJS to “making an enduring commitment” to Israel.
In January, Israel was denounced by one of the country’s leading human rights groups as an “apartheid” state that “promotes and perpetuates Jewish supremacy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”
The signatories of the letter published last week include renowned linguist Noam Chomsky and gender theorist Judith Butler. Both are Jewish Americans.
“Professor Miller is an eminent scholar. He is known internationally for exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism,” said the open letter. “The impact of his research on the manipulation of narratives by lobby groups has been crucial to deepening public knowledge and discourse in this area.”
Denouncing the attack against Miller as the “weaponisation” of anti-Semitism, the signatories added: “We oppose anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism. We also oppose false allegations and the weaponisation of the positive impulses of anti-racism so as to silence anti-racist debate. We do so because such vilification has little to do with defeating the harms caused by racism. Instead, efforts to target, isolate and purge individuals in this manner are aimed at deterring evidence-based research, teaching, and debate.”
The letter warned that prolonged harassment of a highly-regarded academic and attempts to discredit a lifetime of scholarship will not only cause significant distress to the individual but also have a broader pernicious effect on academia and well-informed public discourse, creating “a culture of self-censorship and fear” in the wider academic community.
“Instead of free and open debate, an intimidatory context is created and this can be particularly worrying for those who do not hold positions of seniority, influence, or stable employment, particularly in times of job uncertainty and in a sector with high levels of casualised employment. As a result, the important scholarship is omitted, and this curtails the public’s and students’ right to learn and to engage in thoughtful debate.”
Critics have warned that the attack on Miller points to a dangerous rise of cancel-culture and the abuse of anti-Semitism allegations made by anti-Palestinian groups. Writing in The Electronic Intifada, Miller said that the pro-Israel lobby in Britain was reviving its two-year campaign to have him sacked from the University of Bristol. He believes that it is his exposure of “Zionist Islamophobia” that is terrifying “Israel’s fanatical advocates.”
Several studies have exposed the nexus between groups that advocate strongly for the state of Israel and their role in spreading Islamophobia. A study by the Centre for American Progress, for example, found what was described as an “undeniable overlap” between “right-wing Zionism and Islamophobia.”