13 Bristol Uni staff sign letter in support of David Miller

28 staff have signed a letter against Miller so far

13 Bristol Uni staff members have signed a letter in support of Professor David Miller following accusations of antisemitism and targeting Jewish students on campus.

293 academic staff from universities around the world have signed the letter. There is a total of 3,481 academic staff at Bristol Uni, and the 13 signatories equate to 0.37 per cent of current academic staff.

A Union of Jewish Students (UJS) letter in response condemning Miller’s comments has so far been signed by 612 academics in total from around the world at the time of publication, which is more than double the amount who are in support. 28 academic staff from Bristol Uni have signed, which is 0.8 per cent of staff.

On Saturday 13th February, David Miller criticised Jewish student groups in an online Zoom event, leading to the president of Bristol Jewish Society (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”, which has resulted in the online abuse of Jewish students.

In a statement issued yesterday following a meeting with university management, the UJS and the JSoc said that management told them they are “unable to publicly condemn the abuse Jewish students are receiving, in order to remain neutral.”

In a statement to The Bristol Tab, Bristol Uni reiterated that it does “not endorse the comments made by Professor Miller about our Jewish students”, but added: “Any action which we might take as an employer is a private matter due to our obligations of confidentiality”.

‘We hope that you will uphold the integrity of academic debate’

The 468 word letter supporting David Miller describes him as an “eminent scholar”, and claims he is “known internationally for exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism”.

The letter claims they are defending academic freedom, saying that a “campaign of censorship” is being mounted against Miller, saying that “any action taken against Miller would result in a “culture of self-censorship and fear in the wider academic community”, adding: “We hope that you will uphold the integrity of academic debate.”

It describes attacks on Miller as “harassment”, and says that attacks on him “cause significant distress to the individual”.

The letter also claims that The Bristol Tab asked Miller “to provide a statement on Israel/Palestine”, which we did not – The Bristol Tab reached out to Miller for comment following his attack on the Bristol JSoc and its president, and gave an opportunity for him to respond to condemnations issued by the Bristol JSoc and Bristol SU.

The letter says that signatories “oppose anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism”, and adds: “We also oppose false allegations and the weaponisation of the positive impulses of anti-racism so as to silence anti-racist debate.”

The letter also claims that complaints against Miller “stifle discourse on Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism”.

‘These statements are morally reprehensible and risk the personal security and wellbeing of Jewish students’

The letter calling for action against Miller details comments he has made, saying his views are “a conspiracy theory and bring great shame upon UK academia as well as upon UK political discourse.”

In the opening paragraph, the signatories say that Miller’s comments are “morally reprehensible and risk the personal security and wellbeing of Jewish students and, more widely, Jews in the UK.”

They say his comments are “purportedly about ‘Zionism’'”, but label them “the latest manifestation of a long and ignoble tradition of conspiracy theories concerning Jewish individuals and institutions”.

“Rather than geopolitical theories, some of these are statements directed at Jewish students, UK university Jewish Societies (JSocs) and the Union of Jewish Students.”

The letter lists Miller’s comments and gives a detailed analysis of why the signatories believe he should be condemned.

“We believe that Prof. Miller’s depiction of Jewish students as Israeli-directed agents of a campaign of censorship is false, outrageous, and breaks all academic norms regarding the acceptable treatment of students.

“We believe his classification of Bristol Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students as part of a movement he has described as an “enemy” to be “targeted”, and his singling out of individual student leaders within those organisations, emphasises the threatening nature of his remarks.

“His claim that Jewish students are engaged in activities on behalf of Israel that endanger Arab and Muslim students increases the reckless and inflammatory nature of Prof. Miller’s comments.”

They claim that Miller’s comments are “counterproductive to any good cause, and in particular, counterproductive to the cause of the Palestinians, whose interests will not be served by convincing Muslim and Arab students in Britain that Jewish students are their enemy”.

‘Neutrality is unacceptable,’ says Union of Jewish Students

In a statement following a meeting with the university yesterday, the UJS and Bristol JSoc said: “UJS and Bristol JSoc representatives met with senior management of the University again yesterday. The purpose of the meeting was for them to present a set of action points they will be taking.

“Unfortunately, the answer we received was that the University cannot tell us if any action is being taken. They also told us they are unable to publicly condemn the abuse Jewish students are receiving, in order to remain neutral.

“Neutrality and silence in the face of the targeted attacks on Jewish students and their representative society and union is unacceptable and an absolute failure of their duty of care to Jewish students.”

In a statement to The Bristol Tab, a spokesperson for Bristol Uni said: “We have received a significant number of emails and letters in relation to Professor Miller’s recent comments, expressing a range of views on what is a complex issue. We thank people for sharing their views on this important matter.

“As already stated, we do not endorse the comments made by Professor Miller about our Jewish students. We are proud of our students for their independence and individual contributions to the University and wider society.

“We hear the concerns of J Soc and UJS members and will continue to work with them to address these.

“We do take all allegations of discrimination, racism and hate speech very seriously. However, as we have explained to members of JSoc, any action which we might take as an employer is a private matter due to our obligations of confidentiality in relation to all of our students and staff, which we will continue to comply with.  We have legal obligations and policy commitments with respect to both freedom of speech and to equality duties.”

Featured image: Labour Left Alliance / YouTube

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