Middle East Monitor / March 23, 2021
Students at the University of Bristol have spoken out in defence of prominent British Professor David Miller who is under attack for criticising the Zionist state of Israel. Other university students have joined them in their defence of the renowned lecturer. Pro-Israel groups describing themselves as “proud Zionists” have been leading a vicious campaign to have the sociology professor sacked from his post at Bristol.
Concerns have also been raised about the way in which the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism is being used to stifle free speech. “Judaism is different from Zionism,” explained one student. “Any definition that the University and the IHRA wish to adopt must not infringe on freedom of speech, which is exactly what Kenneth S. Stern, one of the original drafters of the definition, is strongly opposing.”
Another student said on the Support David Miller Page that, “As a young American Jew, I find it truly appalling that valid criticisms of Zionism and Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights are conflated with anti-Semitism…”
A Jewish student also took issue with the way that Zionism has been turned into an identity marker, like gender and ethnicity, pointed out that it is not discriminatory to name the atrocities that the Israeli state is doing to Palestinians. “This is not to blame the Jewish community as a whole. There are many Jewish supporters of Palestinians who are not offended by the word ‘Zionist’ as they do not identify themselves with the movement. Freedom of speech is at stake and it must be taken back. We can all be David Miller at some point.”
Most of the students in the anonymised list praised Miller as an “exceptional teacher” while dismissing the claim that he is anti-Semitic. “I was taught by David and learnt so much from him. He’s an exceptional teacher and I will stand by the fact that he is not anti-Semitic,” said one. Another praised Miller for making him aware of the extent of corruption in politics. “Professor David Miller… made me aware of the corrupt powers which govern policy and research in the Western world and how this harms minority groups on a global scale.”
The suppression of free speech is a major issue for Miller’s supporters. “The misuse of serious campaigns against racism to remove a professor is an attack on academic freedom and an injustice to those who have suffered racial discrimination. The University of Bristol must continue upholding freedom of academic expression.”
In remarks that should raise serious questions over the influence of pro-Israel groups on campuses, a Jewish former student in Bristol said that he was shocked by the way in which the Jewish Society of Bristol University coordinated efforts with the UJS in support of Israel. “I remember a Palestine event which was told by members of the Jewish Society to ‘tell both sides of the story’. They repeatedly told a classmate of mine from the West Bank that [the Separation Wall] is ‘just a fence’.”
The students at Bristol University and elsewhere join two hundred academics from Britain and the US who have signed an open letter defending Miller. Professor Miller remains under formal investigation by the university.