In recent weeks David Miller, professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol in the UK, has been the subject of a vicious smear campaign, alleging he made anti-Semitic comments. Individuals and groups such as the Council of British Jews’ Deputies (BoD), the Community Security Trust (CST) and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) are lining up to tarnish his reputation and demand his dismissal.
For more than a decade, Miller has researched the growing public attacks on the Palestinian solidarity movement, as well as the monitoring and securing of Muslim communities in the wake of the so-called “war on terror.” “. It should be noted that the accusations of “anti-Semitism” brought against him stem from a lecture he gave on the involvement of the Zionist movement in the promotion of Islamophobia, a fact well known to academics who study the Palestinian question.
The attacks on Miller are based on calculated misinterpretations of his arguments or political views. A familiar lie is the claim that he said the Labor Party under Keir Starmer is a beneficiary of “Zionist money”. Words matter and emotional misquotes are a key tactic used against the professor. Miller observed that Starmer’s leadership campaign had “received money from the Zionist movement” and specifically from Trevor Chinn, a right-wing Labor donor.
Chinn was close to both the New Labor Project and Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London. Since 1973, Chinn has served as president and then president of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, described by the Jewish Leadership Council as “the premier fundraising organization for Israel.”
The attacks on Miller are part of a frightening wave of intimidation sweeping through British universities, targeting critics of Israel. Years of attacks by the British government and the Israel lobby against Palestinian solidarity movements in British universities have brought us to this point.
One of the main developments that accelerated this campaign was the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by public institutions.
Leading Palestinian lawyers, academics, student groups and activists have all warned against adopting the IHRA’s definition, saying it confuses anti-Jewish prejudices with the political debate over Israel and Palestine. , and thus constitutes a threat to freedom of expression and academic freedom.
The lead author of the definition, Kenneth Stern, has himself worried about the definition used to end Palestinian activism on college campuses. Several leading experts on anti-Semitism have also argued that it does not provide a precise definition of anti-Semitism and may even hamper efforts to eradicate it.
Nonetheless, amid unprecedented political pressure, many UK universities, from Cambridge to Bristol, have adopted the controversial definition.
Last October, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government could take regulatory action against other higher education institutions that refuse to adopt the definition, and even threatened to “suspend their funding streams. If they don’t change positions by the end of the year. .
More recently, Williamson has put forward the idea of creating a ‘free speech champion’ for the education sector, whose task will be to tackle non-platform policies – an initiative that would further strengthen the continued government assault on UK universities as sites of criticism. and contestation.
These developments are part of a long process of institutionalizing the repression of pro-Palestinian activism. It has spread to various spheres of public life, including politics.
Between 2015 and 2019, this was reflected in the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his allies in the Labor Party. Many of those who genuinely support the Palestinian struggle and disagree with the accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against the former Labor leader have chosen to remain silent to avoid the same vitriol. The result was that those who spoke out against Israel’s crimes were kicked out of the political arena one by one.
In the case of Labor, the refusal to treat the influence of the Israel lobby on our politics with the skepticism it deserves was decisive. The only brief moment of resistance came in January 2017, after Al Jazeera’s revelations that the Israeli embassy was trying to “bring down” lawmakers deemed insufficiently pro-Israel.
Support for Palestine, criticism of Israel and British politics are also increasingly seen as key indicators of ‘radicalization’ in government agendas, which have also disproportionately targeted Muslim communities in the UK. .
We know where it can go. In France, government ministers are brewing conspiracy theories on “Islamo-leftism” to demonize Muslims – a policy that has been accompanied by raids and harassment targeting a gang of prominent Muslim charities and mosques. In Austria, scholars of Islamophobia are already facing direct intimidation from the authorities and even raids by police, after such hysteria was sparked by Muslim plots.
In the UK, the neo-conservative right has called on the government to adopt similar tough policies.
Meanwhile, the dominant trend among higher education institutions has been to ignore growing demands for the protection of academic freedom. The universities did not want to challenge the government.
Miller is not the only British academic to have been pressured to oppose Zionism. Last year, for example, Goldie Osuri, an associate professor at the University of Warwick, was dragged into a disciplinary investigation because of her comments on the actions of the Israel lobby and its support for the Palestinian resistance.
The University of Warwick, which has so far refused to adopt the IHRA’s definition, has finally announced that it will take no action against Osuri on the grounds of “freedom of speech.”
This has led pro-Israel organizations to redouble their efforts to pressure the university to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, making the link between the definition and the criminalization of voices even more evident. pro-Palestinian at UK universities.
If Miller loses his job because of his comments about Israel and Zionism, it would represent a key victory for those campaigning to institutionalize the definition of the IHRA and criminalize Palestinian activism on our campuses and other institutions. It could also intimidate other academics who defend Palestinian rights.
If British academics who disagree with the campaign against Miller choose to remain silent out of fear, the same will happen in their universities.
It is only through collective resistance and solidarity with those who are targeted that we can protect ourselves, freedom of speech and academic freedom.
It may only be Miller who is targeted today, but if we don’t act quickly and decisively, there will be more tomorrow and more the next day.
Now is the time to speak up, pass solidarity motions in local student unions and university college union chapters, make statements of support through student associations.
The clearer it becomes that Miller is part of a larger movement, committed to protecting free speech and academic freedom, the harder it will be for the University of Bristol to victimize him and the more secure dissenting voices will be to emerge. articulate a different view of the world. , through higher education and society.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.