Professor Miller is highly regarded for his work on state power and propaganda, including public relations and lobbying. A book he co-edited, called What is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State, looked at how discrimination against Muslims is generated. This found that parts of the Zionist movement – which originated in the 1880s to create and sustain the state of Israel – have contributed to Islamophobia through a range of far-right organisations, think tanks and lobby groups.
In February 2019, Professor Miller included this evidence-based research in a lecture at the University of Bristol as part of a wider module he was teaching called ‘Harms of the Powerful’. The Community Security Trust (CST) – a British pro-Israel organisation funded by the Department for Education, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – instigated a complaint to the University about Professor Miller’s lecture. As Professor Miller showed at the time, the complaint made ‘false allegations’ based on ‘faulty analysis’.
As the University is only able to accept complaints about staff from current students, it was rejected. The CST then approached Union of Jewish Students of the UK and Ireland (UJS) to front a complaint. Its then-President signed a new complaint along with the then-President of its local affiliate, Bristol Jewish Society (JSoc).
All JSocs fall under the auspices of the UJS, which is a member of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), which, in turn, is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation, the first of four Israeli ‘national institutions’ that formally constitute the Zionist movement. The UJS has as part of its constitution a core value of ‘engagement with Israel’, which entails ‘inspiring Jewish students to make an enduring commitment to […] Israel’. The union has a formal relationship with the CST and works closely with the UK outposts of two more of Israel’s ‘national institutions’ on Israel engagement programmes. One of these organisations – the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), the UK branch of the state of Israel’s fundraising arm – covers the core costs of the UJS. UJIA also sponsors UJS’s Israel Portal, which links to the UK outposts of Israel’s national institutions and the main Israel lobby groups in the UK. The UJS has reportedly received funding from the Israeli embassy, and the union jointly holds events with the Israeli Embassy in London, giving figures like former Netanyahu spokesman and Israeli ambassador Mark Regev the opportunity to propagandise to students.
Since February 2019, the chief executive of the UJS has been Arieh Miller, who was previously Executive Director of the Zionist Federation, Head of Digital Media and Jewish Community Relations at the Embassy of Israel in the UK and a communications officer at the CST. The UJS complaint referred to Professor Miller’s public utterances – rather than his lecture content – dating back to 2013, all but one well before he was employed by the University of Bristol. All the complained-of statements were made outside the University’s 90-day limit for complaints to be filed; nonetheless, the University decided to consider the complaint.
In June 2019, the University rejected the complaint, stating that ‘It is clear that Professor Miller is highly critical of some of the policies and actions of the state of Israel […] but I cannot find any evidence in the material before me that these views are underlain by hostility to Jews as Jews. Nor can I find any evidence in the material that I have seen that Professor Miler is trying to hold ‘the British Jewish collective responsible for the actions of the Israeli state’.
It should be noted that the University invited the complainant to add more elements to the initial complaint. A concern was added about an essay question Professor Miller had set as part of the ‘Harms of the Powerful’ module, asking students to ‘Critically discuss the idea that lobbying might be considered a form of corporate harm’, which was said to lend itself to anti-Semitic discussions because the ‘use of the term “lobbying” could be interpreted as the “Zionist lobby”’. The University’s judgement on this was restrained and polite but clear – that this essay question could not ‘reasonably be seen as underlain by antisemitic intent or as inviting antisemitic discussion’.
The CST, UJS and the JSoc were not satisfied with this response and an appeal was submitted. The University suggested that the process might be paused until a decision was taken on the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, which the JSoc was lobbying to have adopted. The working definition was adopted in December 2019, and the appeal was reactivated in early 2020. After a full investigation by an eminent QC, the complaint was totally dismissed on the basis that Professor Miller had not broken any laws or any of the University’s rules and that none of his comments ‘amount[ed] to antisemitism’. The University declined to make this finding public, leaving an air of suspicion hanging over Professor Miller.
Nearly two years after the initial complaint, Professor Miller spoke in a personal capacity at an event called ‘Building the Campaign for Free Speech’. At this online event, he made a statement of fact – that he had been ‘attacked and complained about by the head of the Bristol JSoc (the Jewish Society) along with the President of the Union of Jewish Students, both of which organisations are of course formally members of the Zionist movement’. Although they had identified themselves on social media, Professor Miller took pains not to name the two individuals who made the original complaint.
The JSoc President at the time of Professor Miller’s February 2021 contribution claimed to have received abuse as a result of having wrongly been assumed to have made the original complaint. The former campaigns officer of Bristol JSoc has since revealed that ‘we (Bristol JSoc) FIRST started talking about David Miller in February in 2019’. It would, therefore, have been obvious to the current President of Bristol JSoc that the complaint referred to by Professor Miller pre-dated his time in office. Moreover, the Support David Miller campaign has been unable to find any evidence of abuse arising from a case of mistaken identity. By contrast, Professor Miller has faced a litany of abuse, including defamatory suggestions of anti-Semitism on his part and calls for him to be removed from his post.
Responding to questions from the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Miller said ‘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 in ethnic cleansing’. Use of the word ‘pawns’ was intended to suggest that students may not have understood the implications or politics of their actions. This is a more charitable term than, say, ‘agents’ or ‘assets’, which might have been more accurate in relation to students involved in the case against Professor Miller, many of whom were radicalised at a young age, through programmes run by Israel’s national institutions or Zionist youth organisations. Equally, all of the main students involved in this case have gone on to benefit from their involvement in the campaign against Professor Miller, through awards, elected positions, high-profile public speaking opportunities, internships and paid employment.
In addition to activity coordinated in the UK, the campaign against Professor Miller has been directed from Israel. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs – which, until it was dissolved in 2021, had a remit to counteract Palestine solidarity – created a smartphone application called Act-IL. This invites pro-Israel activists to approve or disapprove of social media posts depending on their content. In March 2021, the app directed Israel’s troll army to attack a post supporting Professor Miller. In October 2021, the same app incited activists to comment on a Times/Sunday Times Facebook post by accusing him of ‘spouting antisemitism’.
The campaign against Professor Miller has been shamefully abetted by elected representatives in the House of Commons and their unelected counterparts in the House of Lords. The Support David Miller campaign has exposed that the leading parliamentary voices have received funding from Israeli institutions, Zionist donors and friends of Israel groups. Equally shamefully, this has been unreported in the mainstream media. It is hard to imagine the influence of any other foreign state remaining unexamined.
On 1 October 2021, the University of Bristol terminated Professor Miller’s employment without legitimate grounds. By attempting to silence one of the leading academics prepared to speak out about the racist premises of Zionism, the University has set a very dangerous precedent. Academics across the UK and Ireland will be less willing to undertake and publicise research into Zionism, and Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students and staff have been left exposed. If the University fails to overturn this unjust decision at the appeal stage, Professor Miller will be forced to take legal action.