Bristol University sacks professor accused of antisemitic comments
Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Assimifne

Bristol University sacks professor accused of antisemitic comments

The University of Bristol sacked a sociology professor accused of antisemitic comments, on 1 October. The university said the termination of Professor David Miller’s employment was prompted by its duty of care to all students and the wider university community. 

Initial controversy started in 2019 when Prof Miller cited the Zionist movement as one of five sources of Islamophobia in a lecture on the subject.

This comment was originally dismissed by the university on the grounds of academic freedom.

Prof Miller made further comments such as describing Israel as “the enemy of world peace” in an online lecture.

Although an independent QC found that Prof Miller’s alleged comments “did not constitute unlawful speech”, a disciplinary hearing concluded that he “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff”.

The investigation into Prof Miller’s conduct was launched in March, and has divided the campus between staff and students who denounced him for spouting antisemitic tropes, and those who worry that sanctions would suppress sensitive research.

“We recognise that these matters have caused deep concern for people on all sides of the debate, and that members of our community hold very different views from one another”

–University of Bristol

Bristol said in its statement that academic freedom was “fundamental” to the university, and that it “take[s] any risk to stifle that freedom seriously”.

“We recognise that these matters have caused deep concern for people on all sides of the debate, and that members of our community hold very different views from one another”, the university added.

The case has attracted the attention of hundreds of academics and politicians across the world, with one describing Prof Miller’s views on Zionism as “morally reprehensible”, and the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, said it resembled “1930s Nazi Germany”, citing the feelings of Jewish students feeling “unsafe” at the university. 

In a joint statement, the Union of Jewish Students and Bristol JSoc said they were “delighted” by the news.

The Jewish Leadership Council welcomed the news, condemning the academic’s “well documented treatment of Jewish students.”

Thangam Debbonaire MP told Bristol Live that she was “full of admiration” for those “who campaigned for the serious allegations against him to be properly investigated and dealt with.” 

Prof Miller received some support from within the academic community, with Roger Waters and Noam Chomsky lending their support. 

A report by the Community Security Trust, published in 2020, reported 123 antisemitic incidents affecting Jewish students, academics, and student bodies in 34 different towns and cities across the UK between 2018-2020.

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