British Universities Have Become Safe Spaces for Anti-Semitism

March 8, 2021 | David Hirsh
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Last month, David Miller, a sociology professor at Bristol University, attracted the attention of the Anglo-Jewish press with a rant about the supposed danger posed to civic and campus life by Zionists. Such rhetoric is nothing new for Miller, who has argued—in his academic work as well as in other contexts—that campus Jewish societies are in the employ of a nefarious “Israel lobby,” and that interfaith activities involving Jewish and Muslim communities are “a Trojan horse for normalizing Zionism.” He is likewise convinced that Bashar al-Assad’s mass slaughter of his own people is a hoax perpetrated by a similarly nefarious conspiracy. Unsurprisingly, David Hirsh observes, Miller also believes complaints of anti-Semitism are Isra made in bad faith.

David Miller is not articulating a worry that Jews may be oversensitive about anti-Semitism or about criticism of Israel. His position is that Jews who allege that there is anti-Semitism on the left, or on campus, are acting as part of a deliberate and collective conspiracy to lie. “The purpose of all this,” (note “all this” not “some of this” or even “most of this”) adds Miller, “is to give cover to Zionist activists, allowing them to present themselves as part of a benighted ethnic minority facing racism.”

This practice of treating Jewish victims of anti-Semitism as part of a conspiracy to silence criticism of Israel is well documented. . . . It is worth mentioning that rhetoric [of this sort] long predates anti-Zionist anti-Semitism. . . . Wilhelm Marr himself, the inventor of the word “anti-Semitism,” prefaced his 1879 pamphlet [warning Germans of the dangers of Jewry] with the expectation that Jews would silence his “criticism” with a concocted allegation of bigotry.

The sociologists in Miller’s department at Bristol and the discipline more widely must bear some responsibility for their colleague. Miller’s anti-Semitic discourse is not that unusual on campus but it sticks out because he likes to say clearly and explicitly the things that other academics prefer to say in more opaque and ambivalent language. . . . [T]he fact that David Miller has tenure tells us something about his peers as well as something about himself. . . . Miller is not just a random and eccentric individual; he is part of a wider culture on parts of the left and parts of academia.

Labor-party anti-Semitism is defeated for the moment, but the culture and the [underlying] notions it was built out of preceded it, and will outlast it. It was incubated, in part, in academia and the University and College Union, [the trade union for British professors], and now it is returning there, looking for a safe place where it can nurture and renew itself. That is the meaning of David Miller.

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