Bristol University has sacked professor David Miller over offensive comments he made including accusing Jewish students of being “pawns of a racist regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”.
The university carried out a six-month investigation into statements made by David Miller and finally reached the conclusion on Friday that his employment would be terminated.
Miller, who taught sociology at Bristol University, has a long history of making anti-Israel comments.
In one speech, Miller said Israel was “imposing their will all over the world” and said, “the enemy we face here is Zionism and the imperial policies of the Israeli state.”
He continued: “It’s not enough to say Zionism is racism, Israel is a settler-colonial society… The aim of this is not only to say things but to end settler colonialism in Palestine, to end Zionism as a functioning ideology of the word.”
He was suspended from the UK Labour Party last year after blasting Sir Keir Starmer for “taking Zionist money.”
His comments led 100 MPs and peers to cause the professor of “inciting hatred against Jewish students” and MP Jacob Rees-Mogg described his anti-Semitic views as “deeply wicked”.
Additionally, more than 500 academics signed a letter “wholly condemning” Miller for “breaking all academic norms regarding the acceptable treatment of students”.
In a statement on its decision, Bristol University said:
“We have a duty of care to all students and the wider University community, in addition to a need to apply our own codes of conduct consistently and with integrity. Balancing those important considerations, and after careful deliberation, a disciplinary hearing found Professor Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff and the University has concluded that Professor Miller’s employment should be terminated with immediate effect.
The University regards the principle of academic freedom as fundamental and would like to reiterate that we take any risk to stifle that freedom seriously. The investigation included an independent report from a leading Queen’s Counsel who considered the important issue of academic freedom of expression and found that Professor Miller’s comments did not constitute unlawful speech.
We recognise that these matters have caused deep concern for people on all sides of the debate, and that members of our community hold very different views from one another.
Given the degree of public interest in this matter we hope our community will appreciate the care and attention with which the University must approach it. We cannot provide any further update on this process; in line with ACAS guidance, such internal processes should remain confidential. Professor Miller has a right of internal appeal which he may choose to exercise and nothing in this statement should be taken to prejudge that prospective process. On that basis, the University does not intend to make any further public comment at this time.
The University remains committed to fostering a positive working and learning environment that enriches lives and where the essential principles of academic freedom are preserved.”
Following the decision, a number of Jewish organisations reacted to the news.
The Union of Jewish Students and Bristol Jewish Society said: “We are delighted to see a decision has finally been made. It has been over two years since UJS, CST and the Jewish community raised their heads and their voices in protest at the harassment, targeting and vicious diatribe shared by Professor Miller with his students. This announcement concludes months and years of tireless campaigns and actions to try and get the university to listen.”
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said: “The university made the correct – albeit long overdue – decision in announcing the termination of David Miller’s employment. This sends a clear message to any academics who use their positions at respectable institutions in order to spread conspiracy theories and make Jewish students feel unsafe. Free speech should not include hate speech. We commend the efforts of UJS and Bristol JSoc in standing up for Jewish students.”
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism, consisting of MPs from different political parties, said the decision should be “welcomed by all decent people.”
However, it said that it would discuss with the leading university “how it will now make amends for its overly long and secretive process” and what steps were being taken to ensure Jewish students felt safe on campus.