Miller antisemitism ‘legitimised’ by Bristol Uni, says Rachel Riley at JSoc rally

The live stream was watched live by over 1,000 people on Facebook and Twitter

Bristol Uni was heavily criticised in a Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and Bristol Jewish Society (JSoc) online rally this evening, with campaigners saying that Bristol Uni’s “silence” on Professor David Miller has “legitimised” antisemitic abuse of Jewish students.

The speakers did not hold back on their calls for action from the university, with Rachel Riley commenting in her speech that their inaction “legitimised and empowered” the abuse and antisemitism directed at “young Jewish people at Bristol University”.

The live stream was watched live by over 1,000 people on Facebook and Twitter, with the vast majority flooding the comments with messages of allyship and solidarity.

The rally was organised because on Saturday 13th February, David Miller criticised Jewish student groups in an online Zoom event, leading to the president of Bristol JSoc being targeted for abuse online. Also in his comments, he called for the “the end” of Zionism, as well as claiming “it’s fundamental to Zionism to encourage Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism too”.

On Thursday 18th February, Miller doubled down on his comments, while also claiming that a student was involved in “political surveillance” against him, and that attacks on him are “directed by the State of Israel”.

In an 10 minute speech, TV presenter Rachel Riley spoke of her own experiences of antisemitic abuse, saying: ‘The parallels between my experiences, and with those of Jewish students at Bristol University today are stark, even only considering comments made by David Miller in just one recent email, in which he alleged: dual loyalty; conspiracy; subterfuge; dishonestly; racism; and a global network with Israel pulling the strings.”

She added: “David Miller’s antisemitism doesn’t just stay in the classroom. It whips up hatred on campus, sews conspiracy theories online and empowers trolls.

“To Bristol University, the Vice Chancellors, the people supposedly tasked with inclusion and diversity I say this: do your duty. Stand by your students. I’m not the fist person to ask this and I will not be the last. You’re well aware of what your responsibilities are and what measurse you can take to put a stop to this”

“It’s up to you now, just do the right thing. Get Hate Off Campus.”

Riley spoke alongside Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West MP), Lord John Mann (Government Independent Advisor on Antisemitism), Leah Martindale (Postgraduate Officer at Bristol SU), Marie Van der Zyl, (President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews), James Harris (UJS President) and Edward Isaacs (Bristol JSoc President).

In her speech, Thangam Debbonaire spoke strongly about the importance of being allies to Jewish students in this fight, saying: “Allies are important. It should never ever ever be down to Jewish students to have to stand up against antisemitism. It must never be left just to Jewish students; allies have to step up too.

“I can’t tell you how sad it makes me that we have to be here today.” She says that racism has no place in the city, let alone the university, adding: “It makes me sad and also very angry that we have to do this, but here we are.”

Debbonaire said that it had been over two years since she first heard about Miller, saying definitively: “Antisemitism is hatred, and it has no place in our city.

“I support and I stand in solidarity with [calls] for the university to take action, to make the university a safe campus for Jewish students.”

She acknowledged that for allies, standing up on this issue might involve putting oneself in a “hard position”, but said: “that’s the right thing to do.”

Lord John Mann, Government Independent Advisor on Antisemitism, denounced the university in a fiery speech, saying: “The Royal Charter of the University of Bristol doesn’t say: ‘members are one body politic but not the Jewish students’. It doesn’t say: ‘members are one body politic but not the JSoc’. It doesn’t say ‘one body politic but there are these people who are told by their very existence that they’re fostering Islamophobia’.

“The welcome to Bristol University body politic doesn’t say: ‘Welcome to Bristol. We define you as a racist, Jewish student’. That’s what’s at stake here.”

He had harsh words for the leadership of the university in particular, saying that they were not enforcing the terms of the Royal Charter, as passed in three acts of parliament.

“My message to the University of Bristol is very straightforward: be like the City of Bristol; learn the lessons of history; be like your local police force, and stop antisemitism. ‘You don’t have a choice’ is my message to them. You are only a university if you include everyone, and therefore you are going to have to include everyone, and that means every Jewish student”, no matter how they define themselves.

“We demand that you actually be a university as your Royal Charter demands that you are. No more, but also no less.”

In a previous statement, the University of Bristol said: “We affirm our equally strong commitment to making our University a place where all feel safe, welcomed and respected, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability or social background.

“We would urge anyone who feels that they have been discriminated against or subject to hate speech or harassment, to contact our support services so we can offer appropriate help and support.”

The university also met with JSoc and UJS prior to the rally. A spokesperson told The Bristol Tab: “We had a useful meeting with Bristol JSoc and UJS. We heard their concerns and are continuing to work with them. However, at the students’ request, we are unable to go into detail about the discussions.

“We remain committed to making our University an inclusive place for all students, while also upholding our commitment to freedom of speech and to the rights of all our students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics.”

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