Bristol University says it is 'academic freedom' to wrongly accuse us of spreading Islamophobia

12 Sep 2019 by Mark Gardner

The original article, by CST's Director of Communications Mark Gardner, appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on 12 September 2019:

A Bristol University lecturer, Professor David Miller, is apparently teaching his students that a wide range of British Jewish groups are one of the most important causes of Islamophobia today. This vile slur includes the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, CST and others, including groups that focus on Israel, such as BICOM, UJIA, ZF and JNF.

Jewish individuals also stand accused. The late Lord Janner, who conducted interfaith throughout the Muslim world, is named, as is Lord Levy, despite his own extensive pursuit of Israeli-Arab peace. They are joined by other leading British Jews, including the late Jo Wagerman, the late Brian Kerner and the late Eric Moonman.

Bristol refuse to give us an audio recording of Miller’s Islamophobia lecture, from his “Harms of the Powerful” course, so we only have his powerpoint slides to follow. “Israel government” sits atop one flowchart, with these communal groups and leaders underneath, described as “Israel lobby groups” and “key individuals”, rather than as Jewish community groups and leaders, which is what many of them are.

Miller strongly denies that any antisemitism is afoot and Bristol is standing by their man.

Bristol is one of the most popular universities for Jewish students, so CST and the Union of Jewish Students have tried, since March, to approach this sensitively and constructively. John Mann MP also tried. We addressed the utter poverty of the teaching, how widespread the false allegation is, and its likely detrimental impact upon Jewish and non-Jewish students.

In response, Bristol lectured us on “academic freedom” and insisted upon defining antisemitism as “hostility towards Jews as Jews”, which reduces racism to such banality that academics need not study or teach it. Besides, antisemitism is actually the opposite of hating Jews as Jews. It hates us not for what we are, but for what we allegedly represent, be that Christ killers, child killers, capitalists, communists, eternal enemies of Islam, race polluters, or whatever today’s accusation is.

To justify his Islamophobia chart, Miller has now tweeted “the slide does not list ‘Jewish’ organisations. Rather it portrays the ‘British Zionist scene’. It was taken from our 2013 report on BICOM, the pro Israel lobby group”. Miller has damned himself with this tweet.

The BICOM report is pretty poor, but it does not claim that BICOM and others (whether Jewish or Zionist) are key pushers of anti-Muslim racism. In fact, it does not even mention “Islamophobia” in its 96-page length, but on this basis Miller justifies telling students that all of these Jewish, Zionist and pro-Israel groups and individuals promote Islamophobia. This is the “academic freedom” to accuse us of Islamophobia that Bristol is defending.

Unlike other institutions, Bristol refused to allow CST any meaningful role, not for the upset Jewish students, nor on our own behalf. The University says that as a third party, there is no “formal process” for us to intervene.

Presumably Bristol takes the same approach with Syrian dissidents, furious at Miller’s role in the small ‘academic’ group defending President Assad from charges of using chemical weapons. Others may object to Millers’ role, supported by Diane Abbott MP, in opposing the Prevent anti-terrorism programme. Or, there is Miller’s fundraising for Chris Williamson MP, contesting his Labour suspension on antisemitism charges.

Bristol told John Mann MP it “does not intend to respond further to the complaint from CST”. All CST has is Bristol’s letter from April saying Miller, his “line manager” and the “Head of School”, will “consider…whether any changes might be made…to clarify the points that you have raised and to correct any information that is out of date, ensuring…[it] is suitable for undergraduate training”.

This is an outrageous reply. Bristol refuse to give us the lecture recording and will not speak with us again, so how can we measure the changes? But anyway, the entire ghastly accusation of pushing racism is the problem, not some revisions here and there. Fundamentally, Miller says this because he believes it, so what will he tell students in lectures, tutorials, essay consultations, or his next Twitter postings?

Jewish communal groups and leaders do not push Islamophobia: not in our own right, not under Israel and not because of Zionism. We have a proud record of interfaith with Muslims and of opposing anti-Muslim racism. It is not our reputation that is on the line here, it is that of Bristol University.

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