Two statements on the David Miller affair

JVL Introduction

We repost below two statements of support for academic freedom in the face of ongoing challenges to it.

Bricup stresses that the “right to teach and research without the threat of external intervention… a principle that is at the core of academic freedom” is now being challenged.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is clear that it sees at stake “the rights of academics and Palestinian students amongst their body to speak of the history of settler colonialism that has led to their dispossession, to challenge the apartheid practices of the state that denies them their rights, and to describe as racist the ideology of Zionism that underpins this oppression.”



 

BRICUP Statement: the Attacks on Professor David Miller

The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) has expressed its deep concern to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol over the renewed attacks on the integrity of one of the University’s distinguished members of staff, Professor David Miller. It has also been in contact with Professor Miller to offer whatever support the Committee can provide.

BRICUP is not qualified to comment on Professor’s Miller’s scholarly work but affirms the responsibility of all academics, irrespective of discipline or political view, to defend his right to teach and research without the threat of external intervention. That is a principle that is at the core of academic freedom.This assault on Professor Miller’s character is an attempt to remove that freedom.

The accusations of antisemitism against Professor Miller result from his criticisms of Israel, of Israeli government policy, and of Zionism as the political ideology of the state. Such criticisms could, of course, issue from someone motivated by antisemitism. There is, however, no evidence that this obtains in the case of Professor Miller. Indeed, there is a body of evidence to show him to be a committed anti-racist.

Over the last decade, there have been repeated demands that Professor Miller be dismissed from his position. He has been a target, for reasons entirely unconnected with antisemitism, since 2011. That was the year in which he exposed the misleading information provided to the Government by the Community Security Trust in an attempt to prevent the admission to the UK of a Palestinian religious leader who was scheduled to speak at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting.

As on previous occasions, the current attack on Professor Miller as an alleged antisemite relies on the highly contentious International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. This is the definition that was rejected overwhelmingly by the Academic Board of University College London in February 2021. Any definition should provide clarity – but the IHRA definition whether by accident or design is so opaque that it requires examples to give it any content.It is these contentious examples that focus especially on statements that might be made about Israel.

Reliance on this definition to identify antisemitic speech without consideration of context or motivation is entirely inappropriate. Professor Miller’s accusers present no such evidence; and surely if they had any it would have been produced.Without such evidence neither the University nor the court of public opinion should take these accusations at face value.

The potential chilling effect of the IHRA definition on academic freedom and freedom of expression needs to be resisted fiercely by all academic staff and by all educators, and especially by those in positions of trust in our academic institutions.

This assault on Professor Miller is not an isolated case. Academic colleagues at a number of other universities are currently being targeted in just this way with the aim of securing their dismissal. In all of these cases, as at Bristol, student complaints against lecturers are being assisted if not coordinated by outside bodies. A related attack was made this month at the University of Oxford on the celebrated film director, Ken Loach, a life-long anti-racist and defender of the oppressed. The campaign to ‘no platform’ him alleged antisemitism. That accusation was grounded, of course, not in any evidence of hostility or hatred towards Jews but in his outspoken support for the struggle of the Palestinians, and his criticism of Israel. His attackers cited the IHRA definition as justification.

This widespread and deplorable activity is not simply designed to achieve the dismissal of individuals. Its aim is clearly to create an atmosphere in which all academic staff self-censor when it comes to any analysis of the nature of Israel, and of the consequences of its policies.

BRICUP has urged the management group at the University of Bristol to defend the academic freedom of Professor Miller, and to defend the integrity of theUniversity’s guarantee both of academic freedom and of freedom of expression, as it is duty bound in law.

 


Protecting Palestinian Rights and Academic Freedom

PSC campaigns in support of the right of the Palestinian people and against the injustices they suffer because of the actions of the state of Israel. This injustice is manifest in the ongoing process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing that saw over 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee from their homes in 1948, and subsequently denied the right to return, the continued occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and in the discriminatory policies embodied in Israeli legislation that denies equality under the law to Palestinian citizens of the state.  Numerous legal scholars and human rights activists, joined last month by Israel’s largest human rights monitoring agency B’Tselem, have described these laws and policies as meeting the legal definition of apartheid.

Against a growing international recognition of the injustices faced by the Palestinian people, the Israeli state and its allies have sought to deflect these serious and legitimate criticisms via a project of delegitmisation that seeks to reframe activism for Palestine as something hostile, sinister, and anti-Semitic. This project of delegitimisation has fuelled the introduction of laws in many states that seek to inhibit and even criminalise action in support of the Palestinian led, peaceful call for boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel until it ends its violations of the core rights of the Palestinian people. This project seeks to conflate efforts to hold Israel accountable under International Law and human rights conventions with anti-Semitism via the utilisation of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

As a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations warned back in 2018, the discredited IHRA examples attached to the definition, conflate criticism of the constitutional order, ideology and structure of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism. They erase Palestinian history and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation and oppression from accountability.

A key focus of those lobbying to have the IHRA adopted and used to chill activism for Palestinian rights has been directed at universities. The pressure being applied on universities by Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, and government advisor on anti-Semitism, John Mann, follows years of efforts by a range of pro-Israel groups to define motions supporting BDS or events that accurately describe Israel as a state practicing the crime of apartheid as inherently anti-Semitic.  The recent report by UCL’s Academic Board working group on racism and prejudice, even referenced a case study of attempts to cancel an art exhibition addressing stories of refugee displacement on the grounds of anti-Semitism because it contained exhibits focused upon the plight of Palestinian refugees. Mirroring tactics already used in the US targeting students and academics on campus, the delegitmisation campaign has seen the emergence of a website that claims to map incidents of anti-Semitism on campus, targeting individual lecturers for their academic output. Referencing Israel as a state practicing apartheid, calling for BDS or opposing the adoption of the IHRA are criteria for inclusion on this website.

This month saw the IHRA being cited by groups campaigning for an Oxford college to deny space for celebrated film maker Ken Loach to discuss his career. More recently we have witnessed calls from a range of groups, including student groups, for the sacking of David Miller, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol. This followed Professor Miller condemning Zionism as a racist ideology, describing the role of the state of Israel in promoting and coordinating efforts to delegitimise activism for Palestine globally, and outlining the links between some pro-Israel groups and the promotion of Islamophobic narratives.

When addressing such issues, it is crucial to apply depth, context, and clarity, and to avoid narratives that oversimplify the interlinks between groups which oppose actions in support of Palestinian rights, and Israeli state actors. Doing so obscures our understanding of the way political actors’ function. At worst, it can risk drawing on anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power.

Whilst some have criticised Professor Miller for lacking such depth and clarity in the way he has couched his remarks, those leading the call for Professor Miller to be sacked are straightforwardly asserting that to define Zionism as a movement and political ideology that is racist is inherently anti-Semitic. They similarly seek to define any narrative that speaks of a lobby seeking to shield Israel from accountability for its racist laws, policies, and constitutional order, as itself being an act of racism. This denies the right of Palestinians to criticise both the regime that oppresses them, and the ideology that informs that oppression. It therefore violates core principles of academic freedom.

It is regrettable that the University of Bristol is one of those that has adopted the IHRA working definition. PSC has written to all vice chancellors of UK universities, including Bristol, to bring to their attention to the UCL Academic Board’s decision to uphold the findings of its working group report and recommend that UCL rescind its adoption of the IHRA.

We call upon all universities, including the University of Bristol, to make clear that they will protect the rights of academics and Palestinian students amongst their body to speak of the history of settler colonialism that has led to their dispossession, to challenge the apartheid practices of the state that denies them their rights, and to describe as racist the ideology of Zionism that underpins this oppression. The rights of all other students and academics to debate and discuss these facts of historical injustice and to call for action to resolve them must likewise be protected.


 

Comments (12)

  • DJ says:

    Two excellent statements. I hope the UCU will follow suit and demonstrate that it will defend David Miller against this orchestrated attack by an unholy alliance of Israeli apologists.

  • Alan Maddison says:

    There are far more critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Britain, than antisemites.

    In a previous analysis of the 2017 Institute for Jewish Policy Research data we estimated that only 10% of strong critics of Israel on the very left were associated with a probable animosity towards Jewish people.

    The discredited IHRA working definition can easily and unfairly be weaponised to silence legitimate criticism of Israel by appearing to inverse this relationship.

    The advantage for any anti-Palestinian groups doing this is that they do not need to debate the validity of issues raised, as in the case of Professor David Miller.

    Surely key questions are whether Professor David Miller was making points that were true, or that he had sufficient evidence to support his conclusions. Or was he motivated to lie and mislead his students because he did not like Jewish people?

    I think we all know the answer. We also value free speech.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    There is a distinction to be made between the students of a Jewish society who label themselves ‘Zionists’ and the Zionists who are responsible for the racist policies of the state of Israel. Unfortunately the former group have learned that they can avoid addressing the actions of Israel by labelling those who ask that they do so ‘antisemites’. To take this course is to become a bad faith actor. This is not a route that any institution calling itself a university ought to encourage.

  • Bricup’s statement in support of Professor David Miller is excellent and straightforward. Its statement begins:
    ‘(BRICUP) has expressed its deep concern to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol over the renewed attacks on the integrity of one of the University’s distinguished members of staff, Professor David Miller. It has also been in contact with Professor Miller to offer whatever support the Committee can provide.’

    BRICUP goes on to ‘defend his (Miller’s) right to teach and research without the threat of external intervention.’

    No such statement of support for David Miller is contained within PSC’s statement. It has made no attempt to offer him support and indeed it refused to circulate details of my petition in his support.

    Instead we have the weasel words ‘Whilst some have criticised Professor Miller for lacking such depth and clarity in the way he has couched his remarks…’

    The statement is a complete disgrace. It is called the Palestine SOLIDARITY Campaign yet it has offered David no solidarity. There was a brilliant meeting tonight which Jonathan Rosenhead and a series of Bristol academics addressed.

    The verbiage in PSC’s statement about the motives that underly the attacks on David Miller are worthless if PSC is going to give credence to the idea that the attack on him is because his research ‘lacks depth.’ As Bricup says, PSC is in no position to make such an assessment and it is irrelevant in any case.

  • Margaret West says:

    I am not sure that the “students of a Jewish society who label themselves ‘Zionists’ ” are acting in bad faith – I suspect that some at least *really believe” that to be anti-zionist is to be an anti-semite. From what I have observed some will also criticise the Israeli Government – but only on their own terms.

  • Prof.Monty Jochelson says:

    The supporters of David Miller have allowed their disdain, nay hatred for Israel to cloud their judgement.The Professor is using his criticism of Israel to mask his antisemitism.His comments would have found approval from Dr.Goebbels.Again I make the point,by all means criticise Israel where justified ,but please leave out all the millennia old canards about The Jews.
    My late father in law fled from Nazi Germany to England in 1936.He was an academic expelled from his university .He would have been mortified to learn that some English campuses are a haven for antisemites.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    “The supporters of David Miller have allowed their disdain, nay hatred for Israel to cloud their judgement,” says Prof Jochelson. Has he considered that the supporters of David Miller may be motivated by disdain, and possibly hatred, for the abuses of Palestinian rights and Palestinian people committed by the government of Israel?

  • Professor Monty Jochelson says:

    Mr.Kuhnberg ,you have made a valid point.However we are ignoring the elephant in the room. Instead of engaging in Oxford Union type debates why don’t we make practical ,realistic suggestions that could make things just a little bit better for both the Israelis and Palestinians.
    I will start off.
    This my modest plan.
    As students will one day be leaders in their communities,why not convene a meeting of Jewish and Palestinian students and get them to lay down their verbal arms and just talk to each other.Let each side LISTEN to the narrative of the other.Of course this is not easy and will take time.Both sides will realise that the conflict cannot be resolved by force of arms .
    On the Israeli side their youth are getting tired of living in a Sparta .On the Palestinian side ,their youth want hope….decent jobs and a future for their children.
    Now if these students in the UK could convey a message to their political leadership in Jerusalem and Ramallah, perhaps a modest start could be made to ending the impasse.
    I myself played a minor role in the negotiations to end the Rhodesian bush war .We had enormous difficulties but we ended white minority rule in a surprisingly amicable way.We succeeded because the antagonists TALKED to each other. I know Mugabe later trashed the country ,but that is another story.

  • Tony Booth says:

    Support for David Miller should defend his academic freedom to research, write and speak critically about Israel and Zionism while distancing itself from foolish things he has said which are too easily seen as antisemitic exaggerations of Israeli and Jewish conspiracy and power. The PSC statement calls these a lack of “depth, context and clarity” which is not very clear. The Bricup statement says that “the accusations of antisemitism against Professor Miller result from his criticisms of Israel, of Israeli government policy, and of Zionism as the political ideology of the state.” This is only partially true. They also arise from the fact that he strays into an exaggeration of Israeli power and influence which echoes fantasies about Jewish power.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    Professor Jochelson, your suggestions for how to advance understanding are decent and fair to both sides, but the imbalance of power in greater Israel means that there is no imperative for the Israeli government to make even the slightest compromise or abandon its illegal policy of colonizing the West Bank in plain sight.

    Moses soon learned that when you argue with a Pharaoh you need more leverage than rational debate and mutual understanding.

    These days only America has the muscle to bring Israel to the negotiating table, but unfortunately both the Democrats and the Republicans are so wedded to the policy of supporting Israel with cash and arms and military technology that we can’t hope for any useful intervention from that quarter.

    Something must be done before the situation escalates any further, but what? Supporting the ICC in their attempt to investigate Israel’s war crimes would be a move in the right direction. And those who want to see a progressive fully democratic Israel emerge from the Netanyahu era should stop calling every critic of zionism an antisemite rather than conceding that the country has taken a wrong direction and needs to put its house in order.

    My grandparents were murdered by the Nazis, so I have a powerful motivation for wanting Israel to continue to exist and provide a homeland for oppressed peoples everywhere.

  • Jacob Ecclestone says:

    Over the last few days I have read several newspaper articles condemning David Miller; I have seen many “tweets” criticising him; I have noted the denunciations issued by MPs and I can scarcely count the number of demands that he be sacked .

    Oddly, what I cannot find anywhere is the full text of what Professor Miller is alleged to have said (or written?) and the context. Was he giving a lecture, to students or addressing a public meeting? Was he writing a letter in response to what someone else had said or was he speaking at a meeting of his academic colleagues?

    There is a lot of sound and fury, but not much factual information or informed comment on whether David Miller made antisemitic remarks about Jewish students or whether he was criticizing the policies and behaviour of Israel and its various religious and political front organisations in Britain (we are still allowed to say that, I hope?)

    If he was saying that Israel is a state based on the racial superiority of one group of people, or that in Israel Jewish settlers arriving from the United States or Britain or France have the right to seize land and houses owned by Palestinian people contrary to all concepts of law – then I suppose he was in breach of the IHRA. But then British universities were warned years ago that if they “adopted” the IHRA definition of “anti-semitism” then – at some point – they would inevitably be asked to restrict academic freedom and put a gag around free speech.

    Politicians, vice-chancellors, newspaper editors, broadcasters , political leaders……. they were all warned of the virus lurking in the IHRA.

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