Geoffrey Alderman
Geoffrey Alderman

Professor David Miller and Bristol University

In recent days there has been a veritable torrent of comment and internet chatter focused on Dr David Miller, who is Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bristol. These comments are grounded in various statements that Professor Miller is reported to have made concerning Zionism, Jewish students in general and, in particular, the Jewish Society and Jewish students at Bristol University.

The statements and declarations have crystallised into two opposing and very public announcements, one supporting Professor Miller, and signed by an impressive list of scholars worldwide, and one condemning him, also signed by an impressive list of scholars worldwide.[1]

My name appears on neither list. I should like – briefly – to explain why.

I find some of the statements attributed to Professor Miller – and the authorship of which he has not denied – to be utterly despicable. I refer, for example, to the statement that appeared online on 18 February 2021, in which he accused Jewish students of being “directed by the State of Israel” to engage in a “campaign of censorship” that endangers Muslim and Arab students as well as non-Zionist Jewish students. [2]

Not only is this statement outrageous. It strikes me as lacking any serious evidential base, and to amount to pure malevolent polemic.

But that is not the central issue. The central issue is whether Professor Miller should be sanctioned by his employing university in any way in respect of the statements to which widespread exception has been taken.

I do not think he should.

It has often been said – and I have often said – that the right to be offensive and to give offence is integral to the larger right of freedom of speech. This is especially true of a university setting, but I do not think it is sufficiently appreciated in the Anglo-Jewish world.

I speak from personal experience because over many decades I have had to run the gauntlet of vile communal invective in respect of my investigative work addressing the history of British Jewry.

Freedom of expression, even in an academic setting, is not and can never be absolute. Nonetheless I personally draw its boundaries very wide. Within those boundaries academics are entitled to think outrageously and to express outrageous thoughts. The way to address such controversial and even contemptible expressions of opinion is not to confront them through the politics of the megaphone, but to use that precious freedom of expression to demonstrate how wrongheaded and frankly loathsome they really are.

[1]  See: https://supportmiller.org/open-letter  and https://recentstatementsbyprofdavidmillerconcerningbristoluniversity.wordpress.com/

[2] https://twitter.com/bensince96/status/1362432493593505796

About the Author
Professor Geoffrey Alderman is an academic, author and journalist
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