Jewish students at Bristol University have said they feel “intimidated” by the “hatred” expressed by a professor who accused them of being part of a global Zionist “enemy”, and called for an “end” to Zionism.
David Miller, a professor of political sociology, made the claims in an online debate streamed live on Facebook on Saturday.
Labour says it exposes the flaw in the education secretary Gavin Williamson’s push to protect so-called freedom of speech on campus, and that students had been “abandoned”.
Miller, who has previously been criticised for teaching his students that “parts of the Zionist lobby” are funding programmes that spread hatred of Muslims, also said students in the university’s Jewish society were part of a global Zionist movement that he called “the enemy”.
He was speaking at a virtual event hosted by Labour Against the Witchhunt, a group founded “to oppose the purge of pro-Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party”.
He said: “I’ve been attacked and complained about by the head of the Bristol JSoc Jewish society along with the president of the Union of Jewish Students [UJS]. Both organisations are of course formally members of the Zionist movement.
“JSocs [Jewish Societies] are all part of UJS, UJS is member of the World Union of Jewish Students, which is a direct member of the World Zionist Organisation, and in its constitution UJS of course mentions being pro-Israel.”
He added: “The enemy that we face here is Zionism. [...] How do we defeat the ideology of Zionism in practice? How do we make sure Zionism has ended essentially? The aim of this […] is to end Zionism as a functioning ideology of the world.”
Bristol Jewish Society president, Edward Isaacs, told HuffPost UK Miller’s comments were “problematic for a number of reasons”.
The 19-year-old Bristol University student said: “In his accusations, Professor Miller seems to believe that the fact I have been born a Jew makes me responsible for all acts by the state of Israel.
“Professor Miller’s call to end Zionism equates to a call to end Jewish self-determination and emancipation and begs the question: what does he wish to happen to these Zionists?
“The idea that Bristol Jewish Society is somehow part of a global conspiracy of dominance is not only ludicrous, but is rooted in historic and age-old anti-Semitic conspiracies.
“It deserves to be confined to the halls of history not to be spouted from the mouth of a modern day lecturer at our university or quite frankly anywhere.
“These falsehoods are equating Jewish people as the enemy and we believe this is extremely dangerous given how wide his platform is and how much influence he has.”
On Thursday Miller responded to the growing outrage at his remarks, telling The Tab Bristol: “Zionism is and always has been a racist, violent, imperialist ideology premised on ethnic cleansing. It is an endemically anti-Arab and Islamophobic ideology.
“It has no place in any society.”
HuffPost UK contacted Miller but did not receive a response.
Vice president of the Bristol JSoc, 18-year-old AJ Solomon, demanded action from the university – but said it was not up to students to decide what form this would take.
“We’re hoping university action will mean no one is ever subjected to David Miller’s harmful language ever again,” he told HuffPost UK.
Isaacs added: “As long as it results in an end to his hatred on campus and Jewish students feeling intimidated.”
Bristol University told HuffPost UK it did not endorse Miller’s comments, and added: “We are proud of our students for their independence and individual contributions to the university and wider society.
“We have received a significant number of calls for Professor David Miller to be dismissed.
“UK law requires that we, like all employers, act in accordance with our internal procedures and the ACAS code of conduct. Any action which we might take as an employer is a private matter.”
Miller’s comments were made on the same day it was announced education secretary Gavin Williamson is to reveal plans for a “free speech champion” who will have the power to impose fines on universities that stifle “freedom of speech”.
Asked if universities would be expected to defend remarks such as Miller’s, a spokesperson for the Department for Education told HuffPost UK it would not comment on individual cases.
They added: “Universities have clear responsibilities regarding discrimination and harassment, and must balance these with their legal duties to protect free speech on a case by case basis.”
But Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green, told HuffPost UK that Williamson had “started an argument about free speech” that now “risks protecting statements that are anti-Semitic and deeply offensive”.
“To distract from his own failures, the education secretary has adopted an approach which is ill thought through and potentially dangerous.
“The government has abandoned students throughout this crisis and should prioritise providing support for their learning and wellbeing.”
Miller himself was suspended from Labour last year and subsequently quit after he accused Keir Starmer of taking money from “the Zionist movement”.
None of the academics is an expert in the Middle East, Syria or chemical weapons, and the group has previously been accused of “whitewashing war crimes”.