7 February 2024

BRICUP Statement on David Miller 

The victory of David Miller in his case for unfair dismissal from his chair at the University of Bristol is a personal vindication for him. His victory is a major blow against the attempt to silence Palestine advocacy, and BRICUP and many others have cause to commend him for his perseverance.

This is a signal victory in the long battle for free speech on campus. The conclusions reached by the Employment Tribunal have implications much wider than the damage done to David Miller’s career and reputation. That is because its wide-ranging findings include that his anti-Zionist beliefs qualify as “a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic in the terms of section 10 of the Equality Act 2010”.

This decision, confirming anti-Zionism as a protected belief, is already a new factor in the calculations of organisations, such as the Labour Party, which have habitually discriminated against those who express anti-Zionist views.

Why did Bristol take its disastrous decision to fire David Miller? The self-evident answer is that it crumpled in the face of an extraordinary pile-on by more than the usual suspects (the Board of Deputies, the All Party Group on Antisemitism, the Community Security Trust). Those calling for Miller’s head included Bristol’s mayor, coveys of MPs of different parties, celebrities, cabinet ministers. Robert Halfon MP even urged the then Universities Minister to sack Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor and his entire team.

Bristol is the extreme case of ethical collapse. But where were the supposed official guardians of academic freedom and of free speech when Bristol was trashing them both? The answer is that virtually the whole official structure of UK academia bent before the gale-force gusts of official and unofficial demands for the censure of those who speak up for Palestine. Meetings were and are being cancelled, chairs of meetings replaced with senior post-holders, students suspended, speakers even required to supply texts in advance, or to sign the IHRA definition. Staff members who, like Miller, criticised Israel and Zionism and the behaviour of the Israeli state have been put through disciplinary procedures. The Tribunal’s finding is in effect an indictment not just of Bristol but of the whole leadership of the UK’s university system.

Sadly the UCU, which should be the voice of support for academic freedoms, has also failed to step up to the plate. In the long drawn-out battle over David Miller’s behaviour, now stretching over some 5 years, that voice has been in effect silent. UCU members need and deserve a union that will stand up for the principle and practice of academic freedom.

The Employment Tribunal did not order David Miller’s reinstatement in his post; indeed such orders are almost vanishingly rare. (There is though at least one case of a judgement that reinstated a local authority worker who had been dismissed for allegedly antisemitic remarks.) It is an injustice that an academic who has been unfairly dismissed should lose his livelihood. A campaign for his reinstatement should gain widespread support.