When a Professor at Bristol University Became a Jew

On Thursday night a meeting was held entitled Defend Academic Freedom Defend Professor David Miller. The speakers were academics employed at various institutions of higher education including Bristol University which is at the epicentre of a groundswell of unrest regarding the words of one of its professors David Miller.

The various lecturers spent 90 minutes articulating their principled positions in favour of academic freedom, support for David Miller. University of Aston lecturer Tom Mills, asserted that “students can complain about one thing or another but if they’re backed by a media campaign and statements coming from ministers in the house of Commons that’s a very different situation to if students are simply campaigning and questioning the politics of the university.”

It is possible that Mills isn’t aware that Jewish students complained about Miller 18 months ago and were ignored. One can only assume that so long as Jewish students complaints aren’t backed up by anyone in a position of power, the situation is acceptable to him. The moment Jewish students receive support then it’s a “very different situation” as he put it.

Parliamentarians from across the political divide have been moved to write to Bristol University Vice Chancellor Hugh Brady regarding their concerns. Newspapers have published many an op-ed universally denouncing him while espousing a plethora of perspectives. Miller cannot hide from his comments they show his views clearly.

On Thursday the academics argued from a position of principle, that this is about academic freedom, but Lynsey German went further. German claims the idea that Miller is antisemitic is “simply a false idea”. She didn’t comment on whether the assertion that Tel Aviv was ordering, what Miller refers to as “Zionist operatives” at Bristol, to conduct “political surveillance” on him was a false idea.  She claims that there is “this very unpleasant campaign against him”, she appears to be blind to the rather unpleasant campaign Miller himself could have inspired against Jewish students at Bristol by pitting them against Arab and Muslim students when he claimed;

“There is a real question of abuse here – of Jewish students on British campuses being used as political pawns by a violent, racist, foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing. The [Union of Jewish Students’] lobbying for Israel is a threat to the safety of Arab and Muslim students as well as of Jewish students and indeed of all critics of Israel.”

When the issue of academics at universities coming under attack was raised German was all for launching a campaign to bring political and grassroots support brought to bear. However it didn’t occur to her to mention the issue of Jewish students who are suffering under a wave of online abuse as a result of Miller’s comments, there was no apparent consideration of their needs.

Present at the event as a speaker was Tariq Modood who attempted to present a conciliatory approach, despite claiming not to  believe “David” was being antisemitic and that he thought his research had value he recognises that the (now more than 700) academics who had signed a strongly worded petition calling out Miller’s antisemitic remarks represented a major split among academy. Unfortunately Modood couldn’t seem to bring himself to admit the possibility that it is he who may have read this situation wrong and the Miller’s comments were indeed antisemitic. As a result his efforts at conciliation are undermined before they begin.

What Modood seemed to be proposing was to have some kind of enlightened engagement with upset Jews where he could explain to them gently that they were over reacting, “uninformed”, nothing to see here and it’s time to move on upset Jews, academic freedom is more important than racism…this time. If Modood finds his way to this article it would be worth him taking a look at Miller a little deeper. It is worth recognising that Modood did offer gentle criticism of Miller pointing out the that he rhetoric had caused problems and that Jewish students were clearly upset.

All the while there wasn’t a mention of the fact that the Islamic Society (ISOC) of Bristol (yes the same university) has made a complaint against a professor who they have deemed to be islamophobic. There was neither support for Muslim students nor an offer of solidarity to professor Steven Greer, the subject of the ISOC complaint. The concern for academic freedom hasn’t stretched to him. He has been left to weather this storm alone.

The omission of the concurrent racism issue at Bristol from discussion at this event is startling if you believe the argument is one about the principle of academic freedom. Both issues happening on the same campus offer an attractive, though superficial symmetry. Yet one gets attention, the other is ignored, the nature of the ISOC complaint notwithstanding is this not an example of structural islamophobia at play?

Meanwhile professor Greer has been left to fend for himself. While colleagues pontificate about academic freedom in relation to the Jewish complaint no one utters a word on the rights of the one accused of islamophobia. This is all the more surprising bearing in mind the difference between the two complaints, the one against Miller is based on his own comments, they have been laid bare, available for all to see, the one against Greer was soon forensically debunked by students at Bristol.

The situation is absurd, Miller is being helped, Greer thrown to the wolves. The same people arguing in favour of Miller will, at best, be silent in relation to Greer, more likely they will show solidarity to Muslim students and demand he be censured.

Professor Greer has been placed out in the cold, without allies, without a voice.