This is another guest post by Brian Goldfarb. This article is very timely, coming on the eve of Yom Hashoah. One would think that 76 years after the end of the war, antisemitism would have become a thing of the past. However as we all sadly know, the opposite is true. Here Brian has a look at the latest scandals plaguing British academia.
There will be another post (from me) [posted on Yom Hashoah] where I will discuss more political antisemitism in the form of the outrageous “Jerusalem declaration”.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!”
Yes, I know, I wrote about antisemitism a few weeks ago, but, sadly, antisemitism has become the gift that keeps giving. I added a comment concerning the antics of Prof David Miller of Bristol University to that article to demonstrate the method I use to determine whether something is or is not antisemitic.
It would have been nice to have been able to leave it there for a while, but the world fails to move on and, in the space of only two or three days, 4 articles popped up in different places online that showed that antisemitism is far too alive and flourishing for comfort.
There is a 5th article in hard copy which I failed to keep which kick-started this article. Daniel Finkelstein (Associate Editor of The Times of London and grandson of Alfred Wiener, founder of the eponymous Library), wrote, in his weekly column on 23rd February, a strong article on David Miller: “Bristol University should sack conspiracist professor“. The article is behind a paywall but you can get the gist of it from the title itself.
David Miller and his conspiracy theories in the chart behind him
Given that I have used his name in the opening paragraph, I need to present David Miller in more detail. By now, many people will know that he is the Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bristol and that he has characterised Jewish students at Bristol as, essentially, agents of Israel. This is rich, coming from someone whose Wikipedia page notes that he has asserted that one of the Assad regime’s chemical attacks on its own people was, rather, a “false flag” attack by the White Helmets. The latter, of course, are the unarmed and voluntary first responders to all such attacks by the regime and its opponents in Syria. Also within that Wikipedia entry is a reference to 315 academics signing a petition in support of Miller, including such notable fellow-travellers of the anti-Israel brigade as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein (no relation to Daniel), Judith Butler, Ilan Pappé and John Pilger.
As the proverb has it “by their friends shall you know them”.
So why, in Daniel Finkelstein’s words, should Bristol University expel David Miller? Among much else (and we will get to that shortly), Miller has said the following: “Jewish students [are] pawns of a racist regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”. He means Israel, of course. I shouldn’t need to say it, but this is arrant nonsense. 20% of Israel’s population and full citizens, with all the usual rights of citizenship, are Arabs. In case Miller hadn’t noticed, they too were able to vote in the Israeli election, which took place on 23 March, and for whoever they wish. Further, 20% of the students at The Technion in Haifa are of Arab origin. If that’s ethnic cleansing, then it’s remarkably inefficient, especially given Israel’s incredible track record in technical and technological innovation. While much more could be said on this particular issue, I’m more than happy to discuss this in any comments thread below the article.
He also caused uproar after he accused Jewish students of running a “campaign of censorship” on behalf of the Israeli government, branding Jewish communal institutions as working for the ‘Israel lobby’, and being “pawns of a racist regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”.” (from the same article linked above). While I remember, as a student in the early 1960s, the Jewish Society and the Labour Club (and I was a member of both) combining their efforts to successfully block an invitation to one of the sons of Sir Oswald Mosley, we had evidence of continuing fascist activity by this son (Sir Oswald’s other son – the one who inherited the knighthood – had long before repudiated his father’s politics). Miller produces only slogans: so far, none of the sources I have found have produced any evidence of Bristol University Jewish students doing anything of the sort. That is, no-one has produced any evidence that Miller’s Jewish students – or anyone else’s – were doing what he claimed they were doing, making his statements even more disgraceful: falsely accusing students (who have far less power than he does) of doing things they haven’t done. Very McCarthyite.
Further into the article, it is argued that “[t]his comes after the government was urged to look into the matter after it was raised in Parliament, while hundreds of MPs joined Jewish leaders in writing to the vice chancellor.”
I don’t think UK readers will find their MP in the list if they have an official Government or Shadow position: I would have expected to see my MP’s name there, but she holds a Shadow Cabinet post. However, Lord John Mann, the Government’s official antisemitism Czar (despite being a Labour Peer) and Lord Eric Pickles, a former Minorities advisor for Theresa May’s Government, are there.
Also to be found in this article is what appears to be a copy of the full statement made by the University in announcing the setting up of the inquiry.
However, note the following comment from the (national) UJS and the local Jewish Society:
“In a joint statement, the Union of Jewish Students and Bristol Jewish society welcomed the announcement, but said it is taking place “far too late, after Jewish students have endured weeks of harassment and abuse, during which time the University has failed to protect Jewish students, who have been singled out and targeted.”
The open letter responds to Miller’s comments by saying that “Prof. Miller’s depiction of Jewish students as Israeli-directed agents of a campaign of censorship is false, outrageous, and breaks all academic norms regarding the acceptable treatment of students.”
It has to be stressed that the comments by Miller were made, not on a personal website or a personal Twitter or other social media account (where they would be covered, to some extent, by the rules of freedom of speech), but in open class. These comments (and others to be found in the article) were aimed directly at students whose course work and examination papers he would be marking. Further, he is teaching a subject (Political Sociology) in which these matters might legitimately be part of such material and student answers. Were I a student in such a situation, I suspect that I would be, to say the least, apprehensive and, at a deeper level, intimidated. And I can claim special knowledge here: during my academic career, Political Sociology was one of my areas of special interest.
A shorter article, also containing the details of the University inquiry, can be found here at the Campaign Against Antisemitism website.
I have also discovered that “the matter of David Miller is a live issue under discussion within the BSA. David is a member of the association.” The British Sociological Association was, when I was teaching, my professional association (but it is not a trade union: they could only expel him, which need have no consequences for his career, present or future).
The whole issue took on a wider dimension when The Algemeiner published an article on “the evolving strain of antisemitism on the Left”. In it, The Reut Group (a think tank in Israel) published a report which argued, among much else, that:
“Erasive anti-Semitism is a de-facto undermining of Jewish narrative self-determination: the very right to define Jewish identity, experience, and vulnerability according to concepts and language that reflect the unique nature of Jewish vulnerability, including that it tracks differently from other dominant experiences of oppression”.
Signs at a pro-BDS protest in New York following the US decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri.
If we unpick that relatively opaque sentence for those of us not up to the current use of semantics, this is saying that Jews aren’t able to define or explain, let alone understand, their own history and collective experience. In short, this is another form of antisemitism, denying Jews agency in their own collective lives. However, this “strain” of antisemitism isn’t evolving: it’s already evolved. Anne posted an article of mine in July 2019, over a year and a half ago on Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in which I argued that the controversy about AOC deepened “when the Jerusalem Post dived into the argument in its article from June of [that] year, with its headline calling the controversy ‘the latest attack on Jewish history’: that is, we Jews aren’t even allowed to tell our own story any more, others are claiming to know better than us what our history is. We’ve been here before, many times, and I’ve, again many times, here and elsewhere, argued that when certain UK trade unions refused to accept an earlier version of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, they were saying that they knew better than the victims when an antisemitic “event” had taken place: something they wouldn’t dream of doing, nay, dare do, if the victim were a member of an ethnic minority or a woman. But Jews? What do they know about antisemitism?”
In The Algemeiner article, the author notes that “it is often not an intentional assault, but a byproduct of the current progressive discourse.” This bears a remarkable resemblance to many of the attitudes found on the Left of the Corbyn Labour Party, and we know how that panned out!
The matter of David Miller doesn’t stop there. Returning to the net to check on the Wikipedia entries on Miller, I came across this article in Varsity, an independent paper for Cambridge University.
At least thirteen Cambridge academics have signed an open letter condemning Professor David Miller of the University of Bristol for “accus[ing]Jewish students of being ‘directed by the State of Israel’ to pursue a ‘campaign of censorship’ that endangers Muslim and Arab students.”
The open letter, which at the time of publication was signed by over 650 academics, describes Miller’s statement as “morally reprehensible”, risking “the personal security and wellbeing of Jewish students and, more widely, Jews in the UK.”
Others will know whether this is aimed at Faculty, students or both, but whatever the audience, this article is a well-balanced discussion of the issues in this matter, noting what is, in some people’s minds, the competition between (absolute) free speech and the role of law in creating a fair society. I attempted to illustrate this issue in the article here recently on antisemitism.
[Anne adds]: After Brian sent me his initial article, he sent me a PS which is quite mind-boggling. The item suggests that Miller is associated (at the very least) with another academic who could possibly be guilty of sedition. I insert it here below:
“When the student paper The Tab tried to contact Miller, a spokesman for the Support David Miller campaign said
“Far-right Zionists hate groups around the country are known to use spurious police complaints to intimidate pro-Palestine activists.”
The phrase that uses the words “hole” and “stop digging” comes to mind.
The second article is a whole page, including a photo of Professor Paul McKeigue of Edinburgh University, alongside one of Syrian White Helmets at the scene of an Assad regime attack. The headline states, in its entirety
“Professor gave names to fake Russia spy”. He is a member of The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda & Media “a collection of fringe intellectuals”, as The Times notes. One of the other members is, surprise, surprise, David Miller.
Knowing that this group was planning to attack it, an organisation called the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (Cija), “which collects documentary evidence from Syria so that war criminals and torturers can be held …responsible for atrocities”, set up a sting operation. Cija set up a fake email account and contacted Prof. McKeigue, pretending to be a Russian agent. Suffice it to say that McKeigue gave the fake spy a long list of names of people he believed to be working for UK and other Western intelligence agencies. At least one of those named, who is a retired army officer and is now working in the public arena, has called on the police to investigate, accusing “the academic of being willing put his life in danger”.
If McKeigue has named anybody who actually is or has worked for Western intelligence, he could be charged with treason and/or sedition. I bet you can guess who else is a member of this unlovely bunch…got it in one: Professor David Miller of Bristol University, and currently (and conveniently) on sick leave: I wonder who’s going to mark his Jewish students course work now?
When he was “[a]sked whether he had tried to get private email addresses hacked, McKeigue said any information was welcome. He said that he had embellished his claims to ‘Ivan’ [the alleged Russian spy] to keep dialogue going with a source. ’The views I expressed are not necessarily my real views. I kept an open mind about who or what I was communicating with.’” I wonder this is, in fact a criminal offence, especially if McKeigue succeeded in hacking these email accounts.
I also wonder why my eyebrows keep trying to climb to the top of my forehead?
Finally, on McKeigue, a London-based barrister specialising in international affairs, is quoted as saying that, given what McKeigue believed he was doing, “This is a matter that UK law enforcement and prosecuting authorities will now need to look at”.
There is a block on the page which identifies other members of the Group. On Miller, it notes that, before leaving the Labour Party, he “claimed that Sir Keir Starmer took ‘Zionist’ money”. The entry also confirms that many of Miller’s antisemitic remarks were “allegedly made during his lectures…”
Moving on, I almost missed the detail contained in the following article, also from The Algemeiner on the suspension of a Capitol Hill cop after he was spotted with a copy of the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
A police officer on Capitol Hill has been suspended after he was spotted by congressional aide with a copy of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — the notorious antisemitic fabrication alleging a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world that was issued by the Russian Tsar’s secret police in 1903.
Photographs provided to The Washington Post on Monday showed a printed copy of the “Protocols” on a table inside an entrance to the Longworth House Office Building. On Monday evening, acting Capitol Hill police chief Yogananda Pittman confirmed that an officer had been suspended pending an investigation “after antisemitic reading material was discovered near his work area on Sunday.”
I had already noticed, in passing, when watching a download from CNN that an annotated copy of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” had been spotted in a police security booth in the US Capitol Building. If you are unaware of the background to this fabrication , then please start with the last two major paragraphs of my report on Jewish Book Week of 2012 with its report on Umberto Eco’s book “The Prague Cemetery”.
By the way, if you care to click on to this article again in The Campaign against Antisemitism, you will see behind Miller one of those crazy diagrams that links everyone David Miller thinks is linked to each other in this sneaky Zionist plot which seeks to entrap and destroy him.
Antisemitic conspiracy theory
You know the sort of thing: X once read about Y in a newspaper article written by Z, who once spoke to A, who went to Primary School with B, who is now the Chief Exec of Corporation W, which is out to get people like David Miller, despite the fact that none of these people have spoken, let alone written, to each other in any way for the last 30 years. Further, in the way of these things, many of these links make no sense, other, of course, than to a devotee of conspiracy theories – which have the advantage of cutting out the need to think and find real, hard, evidence to bolster one’s views.
Even more interestingly, if one looks more closely, we find that of the 12 people Miller is convinced are out to get him and his ilk (and not even bothering with the numerous organisations linked to), at least 4 of the people named (Greville Janner, Eric Moonman [a former Lib.Dem. MP], Brian Kerner and Jo Wagerman) are deceased. Two of them 5 and 6 years ago respectively. Difficult to see how they can still be influencing policy in the UK and against Brian Miller and his fellow conspiracy theorists. You would think that he would at least try to keep his conspiracy up-to-date.
But when have the facts or reality ever got in the way of a good conspiracy theory?
Brian, thank you very much for this rather depressing and even alarming update on the state of antisemitism in British academia, or at least in one particular university. Also as you have noted is the apparent immortality of the vicious antisemitic propaganda publication the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Despite its having been thoroughly debunked for decades already, it still finds a steady stream of believers.
Even though we can find encouragement from the number of academic and other public institutions who have adopted the IHRA definitions of antisemitism, there is still a long way to go if we are defeat the monster of conspiracy theories and simple old fashioned Jew-hatred.