March 31 2021
A coalition of Labour Left organisations and speakers came together outside Bristol University on March 31 for a ‘lobby in defence of academic freedom and Professor David Miller’. Around 50 protesters assembled at 2pm outside the Wills Memorial Building to express “solidarity and support for Professor Miller”.
Some of those present then moved on to Senate House to present the vice chancellor of the university with a petition in support of David Miller. Bristol University is currently investigating Professor David Miller, teacher of political sociology, for alleged antisemitism.
Esther Giles of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech, which organised the event, reminded the audience that, “You don’t have to agree with Professor Miller. The point is that we want to defend Academic Freedom. These attacks on academic freedom are part of a pattern of restrictions advancing in society including attacks on freedom of speech and freedom to assemble and to protest. David Miller is under threat of suspension from his University job because he has expressed views with which some people disagree. Those who seek to get David fired from his job won’t stop there. Other academics will be targeted and possibly fired. And it won’t take much of this to persuade academics to stop speaking out for fear of losing their careers.”
Tina Werkmann from Labour Against the Witchhunt said: “David Miller merely stated the very unexciting fact that Jewish student societies (J-Socs) and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) are acting in support of the Israeli government. Surely that’s one of the main reasons why they exist. The UJS constitution states that the organisation’s core values include “inspiring” Jewish students to make an “enduring commitment” to Israel. The Al-Jazeera documentary ‘The Lobby’ showed that the Israeli government helps to fund the Union of Jewish Students.”
She further explained that “the Union of Jewish Students does not represent all Jewish Students, probably not even a majority. There are thousands of secular and non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish students who are outraged by the crimes committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians. Just like the Board of Deputies represents only a small percentage of all Jews in Britain, the UJS only represents a percentage of Jewish students. Many supporters of David Miller and the campaign for free speech are indeed Jewish.”
Dr. Eldin Fahmy, Senior Lecturer of Policy Studies at University of Bristol and a colleague of Professor Miller, pointed out that “David Miller is a highly regarded expert on Islamophobia. He has been given pretty much the same lecture for many many years. There have never been any complaints. He has only come recently under fire, because the university has come under pressure and has been forced to adopt the working definition of antisemitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This conflates anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel with antisemitism. This is an important test case – should David Miller be sacked, this will result in even more attacks on academic freedom.”
Sandy Kennedy, a former graduate from Bristol University, who has worked in an Israeli Kibbutz, made a very moving contribution: “The checkpoints in Israel are not there to check anything. They are there to dehumanise and oppress a whole people. I find it hard to believe that students in Bristol live in fear because of what David Miller has said. Real fear is the little boy, standing in front of one of these checkpoints, clutching the hand of his little sister, while a soldier shoves a gun in his face.”
Other speakers at the event included
- Rita Cangialosi, co-founder of Bristol’s Museum for Palestine
- Dr. Ron Mendel
- Dr Rowland Dye
- Pete Firmin of the Labour Representation Committee
- Dr. Joseph O’Neill from Interfaith for Palestine
- Hedley Bashforth, retired academic and chair (suspended) of Bristol North West CLP
- Tony Gosling, Investigative Journalist from Bristol
Jewish Voice for Labour sent a message of support, which was read out at the lobby: “The University of Bristol has come under huge pressure to sack one of its senior academics, Professor David Miller. The attack has concentrated on his public statements, which reiterate forcefully his analysis of the role and influence of Israel and of Zionism, its supporting political ideology. The demand for David Miller’s sacking has been substantially based on the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, a widely criticised document that should have no role in university governance. Undoubtedly there are people who have been offended by what he has said. But, in our view there is no supporting evidence to suggest that Miller’s views are motivated by antisemitism. And of course, there is no right not to be offended. Indeed, the freedom of expression of staff, of students and of visiting speakers is expressly protected by law. For the university to “cancel” his job would be a truly extreme case of no platforming. Jewish Voice for Labour calls on the University of Bristol to resist calls to sack David Miller.”
Film director Ken Loach sent a message of solidarity, which was read out: “Universities depend on the freedom within the law to challenge all ideologies and political movements. Professor Miller is renowned and respected for his rigorous analysis and considered judgements. His voice is important. All are free to challenge his opinions but none should advocate their suppression. Everyone who cherishes free speech should stand with David Miller.”
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters also supports David Miller: “The Israeli Lobby and its supporters in certain factions of Keir Starmer’s “Blairite” apology for a Labour Party, use of false accusations of anti semitism, as its only defense of Israel’s illegal, racist, apartheid policies. That would be laughable were it not so insidious and effective. David Miller, like many other good men and women, who Keir Starmer has purged from the Labour Party, are the life blood of a real labour movement that believes in human rights, a party that must be free from censorship and foreign influence. Support David Miller and the rest of the good and true – the Labour movement depends on it”
– Organisations in support of the March 31 action include Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Campaign for Free Speech, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour Left Alliance, Labour in Exile Network, Support David Miller Campaign, Labour Representation Committee, Labour International Left Alliance, Bristol and West Labour Left Alliance and a number of local left groups.
– David Miller is also supported by the rapper Low Key, comedian Alexei Sayle, former Labour MP Chris Williamson and Middle Eastern expert, Professor Moshe Machover and messages of support from them were read out – they are available here: http://www.labourfreespeech.org.uk
– Hundreds of academics and Jewish supporters have signed two open letters in support of Miller, which are available on the website here: https://supportmiller.org
– More information about the day of action here: