Professor David Miller was ‘unfairly dismissed’ by Bristol University, tribunal rules

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Professor David Miller was ‘unfairly dismissed’ by Bristol University, tribunal rules

Regional employment judge Rohan Pirani concludes the academic's anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a 'philosophical belief and a protected characteristic'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Sacked academic David Miller
Sacked academic David Miller

Professor David Miller was unfairly dismissed by Bristol University, and had experienced discrimination based on his anti-Zionist beliefs, an employment tribunal has ruled.

In a judgment delivered on Monday by regional employment judge Rohan Pirani, the Bristol Employment Tribunal ruled in favour of Miller in his claim against the university.

In his 108-page judgment the judge concluded Miller’s “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and a protected characteristic”under the 2010 Equality Act.

And the Miller has suffered “direct discrimination” from the university in relation to the decision to dismiss him and to reject a subsequent appeal from him against the decision.

Miller was also said to have been wrongfully dismissed when there was no payment of notice made to him.

Further claims for indirect and direct discrimination were dismissed though.

But the judgment notes that there was a “30 percent chance” Miller would have been dismissed two months after he made further comments on social media in August 2023, had he still been employed.

In response to the judgment the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said it was “disappointed” by the decision which could set a “dangerous precedent” about what can be said on campus about Jewish students and J-Socs.

It added this would “ultimately make Jewish students less safe.”

But UJS noted the ruling also said Miller contributed to his own downfall at Bristol, labelling him “culpable and blameworthy.”

The academic, who sparked fury among Jewish students at the university with his remarks in relation to Zionism, was represented by a legal team who claimed he “suffered discrimination based on his philosophical belief that Zionism is inherently racist, imperialist, and colonial”.

Celebrating the judgment Miller’s lawyers claimed it established for the first time the protection of anti-Zionist beliefs in the workplace.

In 2019, Miller sparked widespread anger in the community after it emerged that during a lecture he had described the Zionist movement as one of five pillars driving Islamophobia in the UK.

Among those also celebrating Monday’s judgment were the notorious anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker, expelled from Labour over allegations involving antisemitism.

A CST spokesperson told Jewish News: “We are extremely concerned about what the employment tribunal considers is acceptable for a university professor to say publicly about Jewish students and Jewish societies who raised legitimate complaints about him.

“Despite finding in Miller’s favour, the tribunal still said that he was equally to blame for his own dismissal. Since then he has continued to express his obnoxious opinions on Iranian State TV, which is exactly where he belongs.”

Miller was sacked by Bristol in 2021 following a lengthy campaign of  complaints made against him by the Union of Jewish Students, the Community Security Trust and the Board of Deputies over comments including the claim Israel wanted to “impose [its] will all over the world”.

The University of Bristol subsequently got a complaint from the CST which said his lecture was a “false, vile… antisemitic slur”.

He took the University of Bristol to the employment tribunal on the basis of unlawful discrimination for his beliefs in breach of the Equaity Act 2010.

In his judgment the judge concluded Miller was entitled to compensation.

Miller was employed by the University of Bristol as a professor of political sociology, and he continued working for the university until he was dismissed on 1 October 2021. The institution claimed he did not meet its expected standards of behaviour.

A disciplinary hearing found Miller “did not meet the standards of behaviour” expected of university staff.

He claimed “Zionist organisations” had targeted UK universities through a “censorship campaign”.

During an investigation, it was heard the university lecturer’s behaviour had led to Jewish students “being subjected to weeks of harassment and abuse”.

Asked at the employment tribunal about abuse directed at the then-president of the Bristol University Jewish Society (JSoc), Edward Isaacs, as a result of his criticism of Miller had denied there was any evidence.

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

Responding to the judgment Miller said: “I am extremely pleased that the Tribunal has concluded that I was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed by the University of Bristol.

“I am also very proud that we have managed to establish that anti-Zionist views qualify as a protected belief under the UK Equality Act.

“”This was the most important reason for taking the case and I hope it will become a touchstone precedent in all the future battles that we face with the racist and genocidal ideology of Zionism and the movement to which it is attached.

“The determination that I was sacked for my anti-Zionist views is a huge vindication of my case all the way through this process.  The University of Bristol maintained that I was sacked because Zionist students were offended by my various remarks, but it was plain from the evidence of its own witnesses that this was untrue, and it was the anti-Zionist nature of my comments which was the decisive factor.”

Legal firm Rahman Lowe’s partner Zillur Rahman, who has represented Miller, said: “This is a landmark case and marks a pivotal moment in the history of our country for those who believe in upholding the rights of Palestinians. ”

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “The University of Bristol acknowledges the judgment of the Employment Tribunal but is disappointed with its findings.

“After a full investigation and careful deliberation, the University concluded that Dr Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff in relation to comments he made in February 2021 about students and student societies linked to the University. As a result and considering our responsibilities to our students and the wider University community, his employment was terminated.

“We recognise that these matters have caused deep concern for many, and that members of our community hold very different views from one another. We would, therefore, encourage everyone to respond in a responsible and sensitive way in the current climate.

“The University of Bristol remains committed to fostering a positive working and learning environment that enriches lives and where the essential principles of academic freedom are preserved.

“The University is reviewing the tribunal’s lengthy judgment carefully and in light of that review, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

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