Quote of the day 13th October 2021

“The fight against antisemitism is vast, but I hope today’s news goes a long way to showing positive change can be made and that we should never settle for anything less than a society free from all forms of hatred.”

The president of Bristol Jewish Society, Edward Isaacs, one of the individual Jewish students at Bristol University who were publicly attacked by Professor David Miller, responding to the decision by the University to dismiss Professor Miller because this “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff

Because of ACAS guidelines - not least to ensure fairness and integrity of the process if Professor Miller appeals the decision as he has the right to do - the University of Bristol was not able to go into detail about the precise grounds on which they made the decision. The University's statement on the issue can be found here.

Professor Miller has previously defended Ken Livingston's comments about Hitler, and, eventually resigned from the Labour party because of the 'Zionist movement' (sic). He has a long history of making controversial comments which are often accused by his critics of being anti-semitic.

Let me nail my colours to the mast. In my humble opinion some of David Miller's comments about Israel and about Jewish charities such as the Community Safety Trust go way beyond legitimate criticism of the previous government of Israel and into the territory defined as Anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition. In particular I found his comments about CST to be wrong and totally out of order - and that is putting it mildly. However that is not why he should have been fired.

However much I and many other people might disagree with the views which David Miller expressed on various public platforms and online groups organised by bodies such as "Labour against the witch-hunt" and other groups which have nothing to do with the University of Bristol, those views would not have been a sound reason to fire him. 

As one of the individuals who has written in his support had previously famously said, "If we don't believe in freedom of speech for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

But he crossed a line with his public comments attacking Jewish societies, and effectively individual students, at the University, describing them as agents of a hostile power. That moved the issue from a freedom of speech issue to a duty of care issue. 

The University of Bristol was right to point out that it has a duty of care to all its students. So do academics who work for the institution. And publicly accusing your students of being agents of a hostile foreign power is incompatible with that duty. That - not his criticisms of the government of Israel - is why the University was right to take disciplinary action against him.


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