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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Gwyn Wright

Academic ‘more inclined’ towards sacked professor’s views on Zionism – tribunal

PA Wire

A retired professor who led a fact-finding investigation into an academic accused of antisemitism has told a tribunal he is “more inclined” towards the lecturer’s views on Zionism but did not let that sway his findings.

Professor David Miller was sacked by the University of Bristol in October 2021 after making comments about Israel which some deemed to be antisemitic.

A disciplinary hearing found the lecturer, who had worked as a professor of political sociology, “did not meet the standards of behaviour” expected of university staff.

Prof Miller has launched employment tribunal proceedings claiming unfair dismissal, breach of contract and discrimination or victimisation on grounds of religion or belief.

The tribunal could become a test case as he argues his anti-Zionist stance is a protected philosophical belief under the Equalities Act.

The tribunal heard on Monday that he had claimed a “significant number” of “fraudulent” complaints of antisemitism were being made by students.

He also claimed Jewish students were being used as “pawns” by the Israeli state, the hearing was told.

Professor George Banting, who led a fact-finding investigation into the case, told the hearing he is “more inclined” towards Prof Miller’s view that Zionism is a “racist” ideology based on “settler colonialism” but did not let that influence him.

Under cross-examination, he denied acting “as a prosecutor” in the investigation and claims he had already decided Prof Miller’s views were “beyond the pale”.

Prof Banting told the hearing: “I don’t agree that I acted as a prosecutor.

“My beliefs are irrelevant because I was trying to conduct an independent investigation. I tried to avoid taking a view on the arguments espoused by Professor Miller.

“I have my own views on the issues. I can let you have those if you like.”

He later said: “I would be more aligned with the position that Professor Miller puts forward in terms of Zionism being a racist ideology and settler colonialism.

“It is my personal view. I was trying to keep that out of proceedings when I was doing the investigation.”

Professor Jane Norman, who oversaw the disciplinary hearing which led to his sacking, told the hearing Prof Miller’s comments were not protected by equality law and he could have expressed them in a more “balanced and temperate” way.

She added: “Although he clearly had anti-Zionist views, he was not dismissed because of those views. I made very clear in my dismissal letter that he was entirely entitled to have those views.”

The hearing in Bristol has previously heard Prof Miller claim the university failed to defend him from being “attacked and defamed” over his views on Israel.

He claimed “Zionist organisations” had targeted UK universities through a “censorship campaign” and were attacking “academic freedom”.

Prof Miller drew controversy during a lecture at the university in 2019, when he said the Zionist movement was one of five pillars driving Islamophobia in the UK, the tribunal has heard.

The University of Bristol subsequently received a complaint from the Community Security Trust charity, which said his lecture was a “false, vile… antisemitic slur”.

After an investigation of the complaint no further action was taken against Scottish-born Prof Miller.

Further complaints were made to the university about him after he took part in an event called “Building the campaign for free speech” in February 2021, in which he spoke of being publicly criticised for his views on Palestine and Israel.

This led to the launch of disciplinary proceedings that culminated in his dismissal in October 2021.

The tribunal continues.

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