Much of the recent criticism of Bristol University’s Professor David Miller has focused on his abusive dismissal of Zionism. There is certainly a great deal to condemn here. In a recent campaign event, he speaks of the need to defeat Zionism as a ‘functioning ideology of the world’ and likens Israel to an outpost of ‘settler colonial racism’. Israel, he says, is trying to ‘impose (its) will all over the world’.
In The Electronic Intifada, he invokes the language of the Protocols in claiming that Britain remains ‘in the grip of an assault on its public sphere’ by ‘the state of Israel and its advocates’. Apparently, this lobby is determined to snuff out ‘meaningful conversations about anti-Black racism and Islamophobia’ and to silence discussion of Israel’s war crimes.
This is sheer anti-intellectual hysteria masquerading as political sociology. Those who understand antisemitism recognise the age-old language and tropes of conspiracy thinking, with the role of the tricksy, deceitful and controlling Jew replaced by the imperial and conniving Jewish state.
But there is a subtler, more dangerous message in what Miller says which is fundamental to the danger he poses. After attacking international Zionism and Israel, Miller goes for Bristol’s Jewish students. He claims that Bristol J Soc, operating ‘under the auspices of the Union of Jewish Students’, is ‘constitutionally bound to (promote) Israel’ and to ‘silence critics of Zionism or the State of Israel on British campuses’.
Miller is imposing an absurd ideological straitjacket on Jewish students. If you are a foreign language or mathematics undergraduate with a passing interest in your Jewish background, you are pictured as part of the nefarious conspiracy to promote Israeli colonialism. If you wish to express your cultural solidarity with fellow Jews by going to the university society, you are nothing more than an agent for a foreign power, a paid-up member of the ‘Israel first’ club.
As with all racist outlooks, Miller’s worldview cannot tolerate even an iota of nuance, complexity or critical thinking. He is a sociologist who simply ‘constructs’ the Jew according to his own venomous stereotypes and prejudices. Miller claims to be uncovering structures of power in society. In reality, he is using his own power and academic privilege to attack young Jews, using all the radical ideological weapons at his disposal.
But it gets much worse than this. The Zionist campaigning, Miller argues, renders ‘Arab and Muslim students, particularly unsafe’. This is because Zionism is ‘an endemically anti-Arab and Islamophobic ideology’. So, it is not enough to castigate the entire Jewish society at Bristol University as a foreign element within the study body or to portray them as a cog in the wheel of the ‘Zionist’ war machine.
Miller is literally declaring to Muslim and Arab students that their Jewish counterparts are a dangerous threat to their academic freedoms as well as a source of racism and bigotry on campus.
This attempt to pit one student minority against another, to drive an ideological wedge between them, is not simply obnoxious or intellectually imbecilic; it is extraordinarily dangerous. It is weaponising antisemitic prejudice at a time when Jews and Muslims need to find common ground against racism. It is little wonder that Jewish students at Bristol fear the threat of online abuse and harassment.
But Miller goes on to dismiss Jewish fears and concerns as ‘fake racism’, claiming that Jewish students only speak of their feelings and identity to censor criticism of Israel. So, when Jews genuinely speak about their intimidation at the hands of Miller, this is just another cynical tactic to veto ‘who teaches in our universities’. Such blanket dismissals of prejudice violate every core principle of anti-racism and are unconscionable in an academic setting.
The University of Bristol has a responsibility to uphold the welfare of all its students and to ensure a policy of non-discrimination. Yet, it continues to employ an academic who revels in attacking a student minority without a care in the world. Professor Miller’s antisemitic posturing makes his position at Bristol untenable and it is high time the university saw this.