An interview with David Miller

David Miller, former professor at the University of Bristol. (CAGE/YouTube)

JVL Introduction

David Miller has gone on the record, giving his account of the events at Bristol University which culminated in his recent dismissal in an interview published by Politics Today.

His reflections towards the end of the wider implications of this case are particularly interesting, for instance his suggestion that the growth of pro-Israel organizations in recent years is not because there has been an upswing of support for Israeli, but precisely becuse of its decline.

As is the issue he raises of how very difficult it is for institutions that have to deal with the question of antisemitism and inequalities, to even contemplate the possibility that some of the allegations might be made in bad faith…

This article was originally published by Politics Today on Mon 8 Nov 2021. Read the original here.

“I was Fired from the University of Bristol Despite Being Cleared of Anti-Semitism” - An Interview with David Miller

 

David Miller was a professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol in the UK, but he was fired following a campaign by the Israel lobby over his criticism of Israel. No complaint was ever made to the University by a student of Professor Miller’s. A Queens Counsel (QC) cleared him of accusations of anti-Semitism, however, the university still decided to fire him because it was claimed that his comments ‘annoyed’ or ‘upset’ a small number of pro-Israel students, none of which he had ever taught. Politics Today spoke to Miller about what happened with him and academic freedom in the UK in the context of the Palestine/Israel issue.

Q. Could you please introduce yourself and, academic background and your area of expertise and research to our readership?

My name is David Miller. Until four weeks ago, I was a professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol, in the UK, and I’ve been involved as a sociologist in academic jobs, since the late 1980s. My first research project for my PhD back in the early 1990s was on the conflict in the north of Ireland, in particular, the question of propaganda in the conflict in the north of Ireland, and as a result of doing that work, I became very interested especially in state organizations and their involvement in propaganda.

I was particularly interested in propaganda and propaganda of state organizations, especially the army, the police, but also for the Foreign Office of the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office, and as a result I’ve had an abiding interest in propaganda and public relations activities.

My career since then, I’ve come again and again to the question of conflict and propaganda. That’s what partly is taking me towards the question of Palestine, of Zionism, but also, I’ve been interested in propaganda more widely in society. So, I got interested in corporate public relations and spin. But partly as a result of that, I got interested in lobbying and the exertion of direct power on decision making, as opposed to the indirect exertion of power through propaganda and media. So that also has been something I’ve drawn on in my research in the last 10 years or so on Zionism.

I’ve become very interested in Zionism as a political philosophy and as an actually existing social movement, and I’ve become interested in studying that directly in the way that not that many people have been doing. Also, I have been interested in Zionism in the context of the question of Islamophobia, racism against Muslims and the wider context of anti-Arab racism and anti-Palestinian racism. I’ve connected the two of those issues together, and that’s one of the things which has proven, I think, controversial, about my activities.

Q. I would like to learn more about your version of events of what happened that pushed the University of Bristol to fire you from the University.

I arrived at University of Bristol in September 2018. And around six months later, I was giving a lecture on Islamophobia on one of my modules. What appears to have happened is that two of my students in the class  contacted the Community Security Trust (CST), which is a pro-Israel organization, that claims that it is only an organization set up to combat anti-Semitism. Of course, the problem with it is that it fails to, or finds it difficult, or deliberately doesn’t want to, distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. Of course, those are two separate things.

The CST complained to the University of Bristol, the University rejected their complaint because they weren’t students. The students themselves were able to complain anonymously if they wanted to, but they didn’t want to. So, the CST went to an organization that it is very closely connected to the Union of Jewish Students, which is a British national organization, the umbrella group for all Jewish student societies across the whole of the UK. And they put in a complaint together with the local society, the Bristol Jewish Society, that complained about some of my statements over the previous six years, including only one which I’ve made since I have been in post at the University of Bristol.

The Union of Jewish Students is not just an organization which represents Jews, nor does it represent all Jews on campus. It’s constitutionally a pro-Israel organization. It is not, it doesn’t represent, for example, anti-Zionist or non-Zionist Jews. And in fact, many of them may find it very difficult to be part of such an organization. So, the UJS put in a complaint to the University.

The University thought that the complaint should be accepted because one of the people who signed the letter was a current student at the University of Bristol. She was not my student, and had never been to any of my lectures, but was the president of the local JSoc. The University accepted the complaint.  Later  they rejected it because it was determined that there was no evidence in any of the things I’ve said or in my teaching of anti-Semitism.

The complaint was ridiculous, essentially. But the students’ society appealed that decision. The University then suggested to the students that the appeal process might be paused, while the university decided whether it was going to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s working definition of anti-Semitism, and the student agreed to pause the complaint. She then led the campaign on campus for the introduction of the IHRA, which was then introduced in December 2019.

The complaint was then reactivated under the new rules, in a complete breach of natural justice. But even under the new rules, after they appointed a Queen’s Counsel (QC) to investigate me, for most of the year of 2020, it was determined that I have not been in any way anti-Semitic, not a single thing I had said was in any way anti-Semitic and the complaint was entirely rejected.

But the university would not publish that finding, or the report. It was confidential. I wasn’t allowed to mention that I had been entirely cleared of complaints of anti-Semitism. But the student societies were still complaining that the University of Bristol had done nothing because the university had not said that I’ve been found to have no case to answer at all. Then what happened was that the university was considering the possibility of publishing a version of the report, but eventually decided not to.

I then gave a talk on the 13th of February this year, in which I referred to the complaints taken by the JSoc and the Union of Jewish Students, where I said: “I’ve been attacked and complained about by the head of the JSoc, and the President of Union of Jewish Students.” Now, that was a statement, which was factual, which was also in the public domain. They – both of the complainants, the president of the national organization, and the president of the local organization, publicly stated that they were behind the complaints. So, although I didn’t name them, it was already a matter of public record, that they made the complaint. So, I was simply reporting what happened to me and that was part of what then made the university to investigate me.

So, they investigated me for that, for my statement at that meeting, for a couple of other statements I made to the press, and for an article that I wrote, in the Electronic Intifada. None of the complaints was the result of students making a complaint through the university formal complaints process. And none of the complaints was about anything I’ve done on campus, or anything to do with teaching. It’s all to do with the statements I made off campus outside of my teaching.

Q. What was the content of these statements and the article you wrote for the Electronic Intifada?

I said things about being attacked and complained about. I also referred to Zionism as a racist ideology that should be ended; It has always been a racist ideology. The difficulty in this case was that students were potentially in danger,  there was a question of students being put in danger by being used as pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime, the State of Israel. I went on to talk in my Electronic Intifada article about campaigns originating from the State of Israel, which had been targeting, in the UK for example, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, academics and others who dare to criticize either the actions of the State of Israel or indeed the whole concept of the ideology of Zionism.

So, the investigation started six months ago, and the QC determined that none of my statements, were anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, they decided to fire me on the grounds that some students were upset with what I had said; that somehow, my words have been spoken in a manner which was not correct. I am still not entirely clear what that meant.

Q. So, the university said that your statements were not anti-Semitic, but it still fired you because some students were upset. Did the university say this to you?

Yes.

Q. Considering this, how do you see academic freedom at UK campuses, when it comes to Palestine and Israel?

Well, it’s a very difficult area. I mean, my case is not the first, there were attacks in the UK in previous times against other academicians. There have been previous cases of people being attacked and actions taken against them. And at present, there are a large number of complaints throughout the UK, which probably people don’t really know about, at universities such as Glasgow, Warwick, Leeds, Birmingham. There are a lot of different complaints from especially the local affiliates of the Union of Jewish Students who make complaints about comments about Israel-Palestine.

These are always, almost always, against pro-Palestine people, or people on the left. There’s no actual fascists or actual anti-Semites being criticized in these cases. This is an attack on academic freedom. Like it was an attack on the leadership of the Labour Party. It’s a strategy which the Government of Israel has been developing for some years, in particular, through the Global Forum for Countering Antisemitism where they want to target the left, and they want to target Muslims. So, they want to try and intervene in the possibility that Muslims might work together with people on the left to show solidarity for Palestine, and that’s why they want to attack people like that, because they threaten the interests of the Israeli state.

Q. There are accusations of anti-Semitism against you, but you have also received support from the local community, including from Jewish students, tell us about this.

Well, this is a strategic use of anti-Semitism allegations. This strategy has been developed by the Israeli state, through the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism since the year 2000. The adoption of the IHRA definition, is part of that strategy which blurs together anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. But they don’t just need that because it doesn’t go far enough. They have to be able to criticize anybody who criticizes Israel’s policies, or indeed, the ideology of Zionism itself. That’s what they’re doing. They have this definition, which helps them as well, and they use it as a weapon, to bludgeon anyone who opposes them, but they also have invested significant amounts of organizational capacity and money in a myriad of local pro-Israel groups up and down the country.

Some of them are long standing and go back to the foundations of the Zionist movement. However, many of these groups have been created in the last eight or nine years, especially since 2014 when the Israeli 51-day attack on Gaza took place, where many more pro-Israel organizations were founded in this country than previously. The reason for this is not because there’s an upswing of support for Israel, it’s just the opposite.

There is increasing hostility towards Israel, amongst the public, but there’s been also investment of money and in organizational capacity to set up new organizations, the function of which is to troll, to bludgeon, to complain, to make up stuff, to dredge up facts or seeming facts from the past, and to use these to target people in local councils and schools and trade unions and the universities, to remove a whole cadre of people who will stand up for Palestinians. They are very concerned about the fact that public opinion opposes them. So nevertheless, public opinion and support for Israel starts to fade away, as a result of intensify their efforts, there’s more and more heat and light about this alleged crisis of anti-Semitism, something which was entirely invented.

Q. Some might think that, since the public opinion in the West, including in the UK, is turning in favor of the Palestinians, the opposite should happen, that you also have received support from the local community, different groups, different people from different backgrounds and political affiliations that should have supported you. Despite this, the Israeli lobby is still able to deliver its version of the story and have the upper hand or the final say, when it comes to criticism against Israel.

Yes, that’s because this is a strategy of intimidation, and bullying, and public institutions in this country, and many other countries, try and operate on the basis that people are operating in good faith. When they’re faced with an orchestrated campaign of bullying, they don’t know what to do, especially when an orchestrated campaign can present itself as a victim of the situation, especially as a victim of racism. So, the idea here is to present yourself as being a victim of anti-Semitism.

And that makes it very difficult for institutions that have to deal with the question of anti-Semitism and inequalities, because they don’t know how to deal with or they cannot even comprehend in some ways, the possibility that some of these are allegations in bad faith. Of course, they are. This is a strategy dreamt up in Israel, and deployed in France and in Germany, and in the UK and elsewhere.

VIDEO: Zionism, Israel & The Firing Of UK University of Bristol Sociologist David Miller

Q. There have been complaints against academicians, students, different universities in the UK, because of their views on Israel. How do you see the future of academicians who are supportive of Palestinian rights, students who are supportive of human rights, in light of what happened with you? What happened with you was unprecedented in many different ways. How do you see the future of academic debate of Palestine and Israel?

They’ve had a victory. And they’ve had other victories too, and this is frightening people and intimidating them. The price of that is that more and more people see through that strategy and more and more people will come to understand this strategy and will drift the other way towards the Palestinians. Israel is in a crisis of declining support amongst the public in general, it has a declining support amongst the Jewish community too, which is moving towards the Palestinians, perhaps not as fast as some would like it, but it is moving towards the Palestinians, and they have declining support in their own movement.

If you look at the membership figures of the Zionist movement in the UK, or the U.S. and other places 20 years ago, they are declining really quite rapidly. They recognize that, and that’s why they put all this money into these new fake grassroots groups, which are called ‘friends of Israel’. They have to try and shore that up because they recognize that their membership base is declining and ready to collapse. It will be a sudden thing and we’re approaching that time. I wish it was going to come sooner than it might be, but it will be coming soon.

Comments (16)

  • Sean O’Donoghue says:

    Sorry you’ve had to go through this. Anyone know when Prof Miller’s appeal to the University against his dismissal is coming up? Also, haven’t heard anything about support or lack of it from his Union. Prof Stock’s Union in Sussex University not only failed to support her but disgracefully came out in support of opposition to her. Interesting to hear about ongoing cases in other universities….we’ve had the case in Glasgow decided on yesterday in a very positive way for our side….we need information about the others so that petitions can be organised, like the 600 signature petition to Glasgow university. We don’t want to lose Prof Miller to a “free speech” University in Texas led by Niall Ferguson!

  • Mary Davies says:

    Love & Solidarity to the courageous Professor Miller.

  • Philip Ward says:

    The cases of Kathleen Stock and David Miller are completely different. Kathleen Stock was supported by her university administration, not hounded by them. Sussex university didn’t take any notice of the complaints of students: it vilified them. She wasn’t sacked – she resigned. She leant her support to openly transphobic organisations – siding with the oppressors, not the oppressed. UCU stuck to its policy of opposition to transphobia, didn’t mention Kathleen Stock and couldn’t act in support of her anyway, as she wasn’t a member of the union.

  • Voirrey Faraghef says:

    Love & Solidarity to the courageous Professor Miller.

  • Eveline van der Steen says:

    Interesting, and very upsetting for Prof. Miller. what however also need pointing out is that this strategy of targeting people supporting Palestine or criticising Zionism or the state of Israel’s actions is also hijacked by the British political right, as a handy tool to attack the political left. Cue the relentless attacks on Corbyn, which shifted from him being a Russian spy and whatnot to him being an AS as soon as they saw how effective that was.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    Jews are not responsible for what Israel does but if you conflate Zionism with Judaism?

  • Linda says:

    Re: “there’s been also investment of money and in organizational capacity to set up new organizations, the function of which is to troll, to bludgeon, to complain, to make up stuff, to dredge up facts or seeming facts from the past, and to use these to target people in local councils and schools and trade unions and the universities, to remove a whole cadre of people who will stand up for Palestinians”

    Seemingly this is what happens at a SURPRISINGLY local level too, suggesting the UK effort is staggeringly well-resourced and well-organised.

    For example, if you look up back copies of “The Friend” from a few years ago, there are letters from several different Quaker Meetings saying they’d been pressurised not to hire out their (low cost) accommodation to pro-Palestinian organisations or to support Palestinians by selling their products (eg olive oil). It’s very, very rare for Meetings and Meeting Houses to be subjected to intimidation by any external organisation or groups of individuals.

    Meetings act independently – so one Meeting decided to resist what felt like bullying, another to change their hiring policy while feeling caught between competing rights and sensitivities.

  • Chris Friel says:

    My Work on the Miller Case – see https://www.academia.edu/61277626/My_work_on_the_Miller_Case

    Live links to all the articles below can be found in this article.

    Professor David Miller is a Bristol academic researching power and lobbying who was sacked by his university on 1 October because he “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff.” This came after a prolonged campaign involving the press, parliament, and the police, but most likely the final decision came when it was announced that legal action would be taken against Bristol by the CAA. I have argued that named groups (such as the political website Harry’s Place) have been involved in orchestrating the campaign against Miller, obviously out of a concern for Miller’s research that looked into parts of the Zionist movement causing Islamophobia. That is, I reject the alternative narrative suggesting the issue was Miller’s teaching of young Jewish students that had made them uncomfortable (as manifesting antisemitism or even hate speech).

    In what follows I will detail some of my work as touching on Miller.

    Thus, as well as Harry’s Place, a major protagonist is the CST who publish an annual report on antisemitic discourse. Miller was first mentioned in their 2018, and I have a long review here.
    (1) (PDF) The 2018 CST Report on Antisemitic Discourse | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    With four others Miller published Bad News for Labour for which I have both a short and a long review.
    (1) (PDF) Bad News for Labour a Short Review | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    (1) (PDF) Bad News for Labour Worse News for Everyone | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu

    Miller came under intense pressure in March 2021, and I have defended his cause against Daniel Finkelstein here,
    (2) (PDF) In Defence of David Miller | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    David Feldman here,
    (2) (PDF) The Feldman Solution | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    Oliver Kamm here,
    (2) (PDF) David Miller, Oliver Kamm, and Academic Inquiry | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    and Keith Kahn-Harris here.
    (2) (PDF) The Other Dimension to Miller’s “Flatland” | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    Most significant is the attack by David Hirsh, and I have a defence here.
    (2) (PDF) The Demeaning of Miller | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    A chief objective has been to sort out a detailed chronology which I did by making a series of points and so constructing a timeline which formed part of the above-mentioned, and most significant piece responding to Hirsh.. After this was written the Jewish News made a significant contribution, an exclusive giving voice to one of the anonymous students who complained via the CST in February 2019, and I have a response here.
    (2) (PDF) When the Shield of David was Removed | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    I argue that key “conductors” of the “orchestra” engaged in the UK antisemitism crisis against the UK LP (“purposely timed hysteria”) were also behind the scenes of the anti-Miller campaign. I have over four score on this, but will mention a summary statement here,
    (2) (PDF) MuralGate as a Distraction from Gaza: Smear and Smokescreen | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    and because it has been suggested that the police investigation (for which I made a long submission here)
    (2) (PDF) A Witness Statement re the David Miller Witch-hunt | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    was instigated as a result of the complaint of Jonathan Hoffman, who with Richard Millett has long been a staple of pro-Israel activism in the UK, I shall also mention several pieces, here,
    (2) (PDF) Corbyn versus Millett: the First Five Days | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    here,
    (2) (PDF) On Recalling a Reckless Conversation | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    and here.
    (2) (PDF) The Interrupters: On a History Lesson by Jeremy Corbyn | Chris S Friel – Academia.edu
    The relevance of these last papers is that they relate to impending libel action by Richard Millett against Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Sean O'Donoghue says:

    Thanks Philip Ward…hadn’t realised she was not in a union. MSM didn’t report that.

    Not too sure that any of those involved in the action against Stock were students in Sussex Uni. As for her supporting “openly transphobic organisations”…I don’t buy that….there are many side to debate….many in the trans camp want to close down debate. Your comment on this is much like suggesting that ALL criticism of Israel and support for Palestine is anti semitic….because some claim it.

    <<Sussex university didn’t take any notice of the complaints of students: it vilified them. She wasn’t sacked – she resigned. She leant her support to openly transphobic organisations – siding with the oppressors, not the oppressed.<<

  • Nina Houghton says:

    Reading this fills me with rage at the injustice of everything that has happened to David Miller and others. Here’s hoping that it’s true that the Zionist movement is declining in numbers and facing collapse. Not a day too soon.

  • Philip Ward says:

    Reply to Sean O’Donoghue:
    I don’t quite know where you got the idea that it wasn’t Sussex students protesting Kathleen Stock’s views, except that it is the case that only Stock’s position has been represented in most of the MSM (the Guardian has several anti-trans journalists and only Owen Jones supporting trans rights).

    In a university of nearly 20,000 students there are likely to be over a hundred trans and non-binary people and in any case you don’t have to be trans to join such protests, just as you don’t have to be a Palestinian to demonstrate against the Israeli regime or its representatives. Amelia Jones, trans and non-binary officer of SUSU was interviewed by the BBC, as a representative of the students – and suffered attacks from Kathleen Stock as a result.

    As to Stock’s views and activities, they are discussed in the following articles:

    What went on at Sussex etc:
    https://grace.substack.com/p/the-uk-media-has-seriously-bungled

    An account of Stock’s views and her reply (these predate the latest events):
    https://www.praile.com/post/kathleen-stock-obe
    https://kathleenstock.com/response-to-christa-petersons-blog/

    A more general article on transphobia that also touches on Stock:
    https://anticapitalistresistance.org/transphobia-yet-again/

  • John Bowley says:

    It is horrific how our higher education is being interfered with in this way and at the behest of a foreign country. If that country was China or Russia or Iran, there would be uproar and outrage from the establishment MPs and media. My apologies for this fact being so obvious and often observed by others.

  • Eleanor Gordon says:

    Full support to David Miller and Kathleen Stock. Stock was in UCU and resigned because of lack of support from her local and national union. The University admin supported her belatedly. Too little too late. One might argue that it is constructive dismissal. Both academics are the victims of activists who have more clout than support, either in academia or among the general public. The Israeli lobby and the transactivist lobby do not brook debate and rely on smear tactics and bullying to shut down criticism of their position. Hence the similarity between the two cases.

  • Linda P says:

    I read when Chris Williamson was Education Secretary he threatened any universities who did not sign up to the contentious IHRA definition on antisemitism would have funding withheld, this is an attack on free speech as well as imposing this government’s right wing ideology on universities. I wish Professor Miller success with his case and hope we do not lose him to a university abroad. Thank you JVL for continuing to shine a light on the plight of Palastinians, always with the oppressed, never with the oppressor.

  • Philip Ward says:

    In reply to Eleanor Gordon: There is no similarity between the cases of Kathleen Stock and David Miller, unless you think that trans people are not oppressed. The fact that they are is what makes trans people very angry, especially when people adopt argument that essentially deny their existence as trans – a direct analogy with the views of some Zionists about Palestinians.

    Perhaps Eleanor has inside knowledge on why Kathleen Stock left the UCU. I can’t see any statement by Stock on the matter. From the UCU’s point of view, even if she had remained a member they were never required to defend her job, as it was not under threat from Sussex University administration.

    Here is an account of what a union might or might not do in such circumstances:
    https://www.rs21.org.uk/2021/11/02/when-is-it-right-for-a-union-to-support-dismissal/

  • Julia says:

    Linda P : I think you mean Gavin Williamson, had me very puzzled there for a while!

    Thank you JVL for your much appreciated work.

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