Fighting Bristol hate has been stressful and rewarding in equal measure

University of Bristol building, 2008 (Credit: Francium12, Wikimedia Commons via Jewish News)
University of Bristol building, 2008 (Credit: Francium12, Wikimedia Commons via Jewish News)

Before the 13th February 2021, I thought that Bristol JSoc was simply a society where people from a Jewish background, away from home for the first time in their lives, would be able to meet and socialise. That perhaps arranging a big Friday night meal would be the highlight of the year. That was before I had even heard of David Miller. Without provocation, he attacked us as students at his university as being part of a coordinated campaign of censorship directed by a foreign state. He went on to say: ‘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 to ethnic cleansing’.

After these comments were made, the society was contacted by many Jewish students who were not only deeply upset but were concerned at how a professor of our university would want to spread these spurious rumours inferring that we as young Jewish student are complicit in, and even active perpetrators of, conspiracies such as dual loyalty, dishonesty and being operatives of a foreign  state.

Consequently, myself and the JSoc president started with a long four and a half-hour meeting with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) who have supported us every step of the way. Without them, none of this would have been possible. After all, we are just two first-year students in our university dorm rooms.

Since then, we’ve had interviews with the Bristol Epigram, Huffington Post, meetings with the Mayor of Bristol and talked to various MPs who have been understanding and supportive. We have received support from many organisations, both within and outside the Jewish community as well as many kind words from people commenting that we are so brave and will be an inspiration to our peers. Although it has been extremely stressful it has been the most rewarding work we have ever done as we believe that we have been given an opportunity to make a true difference.

Currently, we are focused on many hateful comments still coming from David Miller. But hearing such amazing words of encouragement keeps us driving forward and doing what we believe is right, so that no students are forced to feel uncomfortable and unsafe in his lectures or on campus ever again.

We want to also take this opportunity to speak directly and publicly to our university, the University of Bristol., You are a university that has been a welcoming institution for decades for so many Jewish students. Students that have thrived during there time at the university, but students who are now concerned to see this latest turn.So, to the leadership of the University of Bristol, you may feel you are in the middle of this situation. A situation where you are terrified to intervene in what could feel like a political storm. But we are here to tell you that you must. You must act, and act decisively to uphold your duty to protect your students.

Sadly, to this date, the university has only been able to give us one meeting in which they gave us little assurances that any action will take place. We are here to say they must do more.

Most frustratingly the university are reluctant to even make a statement condemning Miller’s comments, instead, saying that they continue to uphold their commitment to freedom of speech. To allow an employee to carry on ‘attacking’ 18-21-year-old students simply due to their religious background surely must be a violation of his duty of care.

We feel a big responsibility to ensure that our Jewish students are protected and not one potential Jewish student is discouraged from attending and enjoying a wonderful student life here in Bristol.

 

About the Author
AJ in his first year studying management with innovation at the University of Bristol, and the vice-president of Bristol JSoc
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