Middle East Monitor / October 12, 2021
Civil society organizations and activists in the UK and overseas are threatening to organize a mass boycott of the University of Bristol unless it reverses the decision to fire Professor David Miller over his criticism of Israel and its state ideology, Zionism.
The threat was issued yesterday in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor and President of Bristol University which contained the signatures of prominent academics and activists.
“In firing Prof Miller, you have chosen to take sides with a foreign state that has left no stone unturned in its determination to silence voices that criticize its abominable racist behaviour at home and in the international arena”, said the letter mentioning the names of pro-Israeli groups that led the campaign for his expulsion.
Miller was fired earlier this month despite being cleared of making anti-Semitic remarks. The 57-year-old 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 (UAE). His work in uncovering the structures of unaccountable power threatening human rights and democracy had made him a target.
Noting the circumstances of Millers dismissal, the letter said: “We are appalled by the fact that although Prof Miller was cleared of the charge of anti-Semitism laid against him by pro-Israel organizations, your institution elected to dismiss him anyway on the grounds that he did not respect contrary views being criticized.”
The letter argued that by taking such a stance the university had, in effect, taken its decision based on offence felt by a small number of pro-Israel Jewish students over Miller’s criticism of the occupation state and its racist operating ideology of Zionism and “upholders of an apartheid regime and perpetrators of systematic oppression.”
Millers’ dismissal was also slammed as an “affront” to his rights as well as that of the wider university population, to freedom of speech, a principle which the letter pointed out is held even more sacred in academic settings and without which intellectual enquiry cannot properly take place. “Censuring academics because their views offend people on the opposing side of the debate sets a dangerous precedent for universities that cannot be allowed to stand,” said the letter.
The upshot of the decision, the letter argued, is that Bristol University is no longer a safe space for Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students, and staff, as well as those who criticize the Israeli state and its apologists as racist. “None of these groups can now expect to express critical views on Israel without fear of reproach,” the letter continued.
Warning of the mass mobilization of civil society groups against the university the letter concluded: “We hereby serve notice that unless Prof Miller is reinstated, we intend to bring the full force of civil society and public opinion to bear on your institution for as long as it takes to redress this injustice. This will include persuading national and international students and academics to boycott Bristol University because it cannot be relied upon to guarantee freedom of expression for racial and religious minorities, as well as political dissent which offends its targets.”
Highlighting further the strength of public anger over Miller’s sacking, a petition calling for his reinstatement has been signed by over 21,000 people making it one of the top petitions on the change.org website.
The petition noted that the campaign against Miller is “specifically designed to conflate criticism of Zionism with hatred of Jews” and that it is “designed to shut down teaching about Islamophobia and the harms posed by Zionism”. It claimed that Miller “is a test case” for Israel’s lobby in Britain in their attempt to use the widely criticized International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism to ban all criticism of the State of Israel, its policies and its ideology.