Sheffield JSoc says Hallam UCU’s support for sacked Bristol lecturer ‘harms Jewish students’

David Miller was cleared of all antisemitism allegations earlier this year

Sheffield Jewish Society has slammed the Hallam branch of University and College Union (UCU) for expressing support for sacked Bristol lecturer David Miller.

The society complains that SHU UCU showed “solidarity and concern to David Miller” by passing a motion last Wednesday which stated that the university professor was a victim of “malicious and unfounded allegations” of anti-semitism. 

Dora Hirsh, President of Sheffield’s Jewish Society said the motion passed was anti-semitic and has written a statement on behalf of the society to get the motion rescinded.

The 21-year-old said the UCU motion mischaracterised what Miller was doing: “The key issue is that when jewish students say that they are victims of anti-semitism, people come back to us and say that we must be lying on behalf of the state of Israel.”

“People should speak to Jewish students and not speak over them or just about them. If Jewish students or Jewish people in general make claims of anti-semitism, it is really important to take the issue seriously. You don’t have to necessarily assume that it is true, but you shouldn’t just assume they are lying.”

“There is a difference between saying we think you’re mistaken and we think you’re lying. If you investigate a case and find out that the student made a mistake that is fine, but it is coming to the assumption that Jewish students lie to cover for Israel which is wrong.”

David Miller was sacked in October after a disciplinary hearing found him not meeting the standard of behaviour expected from staff at the university. Miller had previously been investigated in 2019 when a student reported him to the Community Security Trust (CST) about a lecture he gave on Islamophobia, but the case was dropped and Miller was cleared of all anti-semitic claims. Miller has always denied claims that he is antisemitic.

SHU UCU motion was passed with 18 votes for, 16 against and 11 abstention.

Sheffield Hallam UCU, said: “The motion passed by our branch expresses support for Miller, who has been wrongly accused of antisemitism (as affirmed by an independent legal investigator) and who has been sacked for expressing his views on Zionism and Israel. The motion further defends the principle of academic freedom of expression and debate that Universities and their academic staff are duty-bound to uphold.

“The branch absolutely refutes any accusation of antisemitism and asserts its commitment to oppose all forms of racism, including antisemitism. It would not be democratic to “rescind” the motion since it has been passed following democratic processes and after fair and balanced debate among members of the branch.”

Sheffield Jewish Society said in their statement: “Jewish students here in Sheffield stand by Jewish students in Bristol and across the country.

“What is said about them is also said about us. We call for SHU UCU to rescind the motion, which does harm to Jewish academic staff and students, and for the hundreds of SHU UCU members who did not attend the meeting, and allowed this motion to be passed in their name.”

David Miller first caused controversy in 2019 when Jewish students claimed he made them feel uncomfortable during a lecture he gave on Islamophobia, in which the Community Security Trust then sent a complaint to Bristol Uni.

Two years later in February 2021, both the police and Bristol University launched an investigation into Miller after it was reported he had made comments which included calling for “the end” of Zionism, that Zionism is “fundamental” to “encourage Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism” and that the “Zionist Movement” is the “the enemy”.

The investigation into David Miller in 2019 included an independent report which considered the “important issue of academic freedom of expression and found that Prof Miller’s comments did not constitute unlawful speech”.

Support was shown from uni academics and 13 members of Bristol Uni staff signed an open letter to support him.

This was met with backlash and resulted in 109 MPs and Peers writing to the University of Bristol called for action following David Miller’s reported statements.

However, the case was dropped against Miller and he was cleared of all anti-semitic claims earlier this year.

Nonetheless, after 200 days of investigation, Bristol Uni terminated David Miller’s employment after a disciplinary hearing found him not meeting the standard of behaviour expected from staff at the university.

In a statement Bristol Uni, said: “We have a duty of care to all students and the wider university community, in addition to a need to apply our own codes of conduct consistently and with integrity.

“Balancing those important considerations, and after careful deliberation…the university has concluded that Prof Miller’s employment should be terminated with immediate effect.”

It said the university regards the “principle of academic freedom as fundamental” and would like to “reiterate that we take any risk to stifle that freedom seriously”.

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