Tuesday, May 21

Two NZ professors defended a racist. Do they regret it now?

I’ve been mulling over David Miller. 

You may never have heard of him. He was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol who became embroiled in an antisemitism scandal. In 2021, two well-known Professors from New Zealand, Mohan Dutta (Dean’s Chair Professor of Communications at Massey University) and Richard Jackson (Leading Thinker Chair in Peace Studies at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago), defended him in an open letter signed by hundreds of other academics. At the time, I was very disturbed to see those New Zealanders signing on to the letter, but that’s old news, and by itself wouldn’t cause me to write this article.

David Miller, Richard Jackson, Mohan Dutta

What has motivated me though is a series of tweets issued by Miller on 7 August as follows:

If you are not Jewish, do not be cowed by racial supremacists who want to hector you into political subservience. Judeophobia barely exists these days. Educate yourself about Zionism and the tactics used by its adherents.

David Miller on Twitter

Zionist propagandists like Hen Mazzig rely on ‘standpoint theory’ to fool naïve liberals and leftists into buying their lies. They say only Jews can define Judeophobia, based on their ‘lived experience’. This is a denial of reality.

David Miller on Twitter

Standpoint theory relies on the bizarre notion that people are magically qualified to speak about things via accident of birth, rather than observing material realities. Real anti-racism is rooted in looking at the facts.

David Miller on Twitter

The facts: 1. Jews are not discriminated against. 2. They are over-represented in Europe, North America and Latin America in positions of cultural, economic and political power. 3. They are therefore, in a position to discriminate against actually marginalised groups.

David Miller on Twitter

And that got me thinking about Dutta and Jackson, and wondering whether they might now regret endorsing Miller. Other previous defenders of him, like the groups Jewish Voice for Labour have now condemned him. 

Antisemitism – or Judeaphobia as Miller calls it – is at heart a conspiracy theory that revolves around the idea that Jews (all 0.2% of the world population) hold outsize power and collude together to subjugate other people to their evil agenda. In the antisemite’s mind, Jews cannot be victims, because Jews do the victimising. Jews are not the victim of antisemites, but antisemites are the victims of Jews.

This comes through very strongly in Miller’s above tweets. Jews are powerful. Jews are not discriminated against, but are in a position to do the discriminating. Be wary of the tactics used by “Zionism’s adherents” (ie. Jews), because “they want to hector you into political subservience“.

When they signed the letter supporting Miller, Professors Dutta and Jackson of course did not know about these tweets, since they are not time travellers, but it is no excuse to say “we couldn’t have known he was an antisemite”, because PEOPLE DID KNOW, which was why the accusations against him were made. 

Indeed, left-wing Guardian columnist Owen Jones wrote after the latest tweets: “This is straightforward antisemitism. Here is the problem with those who treated any accusation of antisemitism as a witch hunt: they ended up defending people like this, blinding themselves to glaringly obvious red flags.”

So, what were these red flags? As David Feldman, a Professor of History at the University of London, wrote in March 2021:

David Miller writes about conspiracy. Some academics analyze conspiracy theories and explain how they become a force in the world. Miller is not among them. He doesn’t scrutinize conspiracies, he builds them. He is a homegrown exponent of what the great American historian, Richard Hoftstadter, called “the paranoid style.” For the last 150 years, with steadfast and sometimes deadly regularity, conspiracy theorists have pointed to Jews as the malign force driving the modern world. Miller stands in this tradition. He sees a world governed by multiple conspiracies but repeatedly he turns to Zionism, Israel, and Jews.

David Feldman

Here are just a few highlights in a huge repertoire.

Miller first stirred up attention in 2019 when, in a lecture on Islamophobia, he cited the Zionist movement as one of its sources, and showed a diagram linking Jewish individuals, organisations and charities to Zionist lobbying and the Israeli government.

Then there was the time in June 2020 when Miller told the Labour Left Alliance that interfaith work is:

a Trojan horse for normalising Zionism in the Muslim community. And we saw it, in East London Mosque for example, where East London Mosque held this project of making chicken soup with the Jewish and Muslim communities coming together. This is an Israeli-backed project to normalise Zionism withiin the Muslim community…

David Miller

Back in June this year, I tangled with him on Twitter and he doubled down on this absurdity stating “Yes, chicken soup was involved in an attempted subversion of East London Mosque. Zionist led group Mitzvah Day did the infiltration. A spooky Home Office project funded them.”

In July 2020, in an online public meeting organised by “Labour Against the Witchhunt” Miller said “The Zionist movement, and the Israeli government, are the enemy of the Left, the enemy of world peace, and they must be directly targeted ” and they have “no place in any society”

In February 2021, in another online public meeting organised by “Labour Against the Witchhunt”, Miller identified “the head of the Bristol JSoc, the Jewish Society, along with the President of the Union of Jewish Students” as people who had complained about past comments by him, and described Bristol Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students as “formally members of the Zionist movement” – the movement that he had previously stated was the enemy of the left and world peace, and should be directly targeted.

Later that month, in a statement to the student newspaper, Miller accused Jewish students of being “directed by the State of Israel” to pursue a “campaign” of “manufactured hysteria” and “censorship” that endangers Muslim and Arab students, which was an “age old Israel lobby tactic” that “attacked British universities, political parties and public institutions”.

It was these comments about Jewish students that finally drove the University of Bristol to suspend Miller and begin an investigation and it was at that point that the letter signed by Dutta and Jackson was issued. 

The letter includes the following:

We wish to express our serious concerns about the unrelenting and concerted efforts to publicly vilify our colleague Professor David Miller.

Professor Miller is an eminent scholar. He is known internationally for exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism. The impact of his research on the manipulation of narratives by lobby groups has been crucial to deepening public knowledge and discourse in this area…

We oppose anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism. We also oppose false allegations and the weaponisation of the positive impulses of anti-racism so as to silence anti-racist debate. We do so because such vilification has little to do with defeating the harms caused by racism. Instead, efforts to target, isolate and purge individuals in this manner are aimed at deterring evidence-based research, teaching and debate….

At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has reinvigorated public consciousness about the structural factors entrenching racism, attempts to stifle discourse on Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism are particularly regressive and inconsistent with the values the University of Bristol espouses.

Letter in support of David Miller

In case you missed it, the letter that two esteemed New Zealand professors signed not only defended Miller against accusations of antisemitism, but alleged that it was all a big orchestrated nefarious plot by certain unnamed actors to smear and suppress an eminent scholar exposing the truth about them in his courageous fight against racism. 

At about the same time as that letter, a letter was signed by hundreds of other academics condemning Miller’s “reckless and inflammatory comments”: 

We believe 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…In addition, we believe that Prof. Miller’s comments represent the latest manifestation of a long and ignoble tradition of conspiracy theories concerning Jewish individuals and institutions (and latterly, concerning the State of Israel) – a tradition that includes…the ‘dual loyalty’ trope which accuses Jewish citizens of Western countries of having greater loyalty to Israel, and thereby posing a menace to the countries in which they reside.

Letter condemning David Miller

Now, even though Dutta and Jackson weren’t prepared to accept that Miller’s accusers were acting in good faith, (in contravention of the Macpherson principle*), I will assume that Dutta and Jackson were acting in good faith and genuinely believed when they signed the letter that Miller was a champion of anti-racism whose academic freedom was being stifled by shadowy actors because of his brave anti-racism stance. 

Indeed, I could believe that of the man, Dutta, whose opening remarks at a conference called “The Dark Psychology of Dehumanisation and Islamophobia” last year talked about the “infrastructures of Islamophobia fuelled by white supremacists, (inaudible) supremacists and right wing Zionist hate groups globally and here in Aotearoa, often working alongside each other”. And who wrote an article in 2019 entitled “The Islamophobia Industry and the Christchurch Terror Attack” including the following:

The Zionist propaganda machinery produces the image and narrative of the Muslim other to silence any critique of its settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. A large proportion of the funding of the Islamophobia industry comes from Zionist organizations.

Mohan Dutta

And who tweeted that ”freedom loving people the world over must understand the Palestinian call to end Israel as a people’s fundamental right to freedom”. 

And I can believe it of the man, Jackson, who wrote an article entitled “Confessions of a Terrorist Sympathiser” that sits on the University of Otago’s website, in which he states “I am a terrorist sympathiser because I can understand how a young woman from Gaza might consider that she has no real future, nothing but daily humiliations, the continued threat of being shot by an Israeli soldier or firebombed by a settler, or being arrested and tortured by the police” (despite the fact that there are no Israeli soldiers or settlers in Gaza and the police there are Hamas’ security forces).

But do they still believe that now? Now that Miller has been dismissed by the University of Bristol for failing to meet the standards of behaviour expected of staff, in light of its duty of care to all students and the wider University community? Now that Miller regularly appears on the Iranian regime’s state TV channel Press TV in his show Palestine Declassified where he also parlays Kremlin propaganda? And now that he tweeted as he did on 7 August?

If they still genuinely believe the content of the letter they signed in 2021, that reflects extremely poorly on them – their research, scholarship, and evidenced-based reasoning, as well as, potentially, their ability to treat all their students neutrally and even-handedly. 

More broadly, as will be evident from my articles about Byron Clark, I am extremely concerned by the blindspot of this country’s institutions towards antisemitism on the hard left, and the way that Jews who raise this are either ignored, or worse, vilified and gaslit. In particular, it’s well past time that we lay to rest the tired trope, itself antisemitic, that Jews make accusations of antisemitism in bad faith to suppress criticism of Israel – a trope belied by the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting every week for over 30 weeks against their government and its proposed policies, with significant and outspoken support from many prominent Jews in the diaspora. 

I should conclude by noting that, if Dutta’s ongoing stoush with writer Karl Du Fresne is anything to go by, rather than Dutta engaging with the substance of this article, explain why he saw fit to stake his reputation on Miller, and whether he still stands by the letter he signed, I know he may well use his platform to smear me. So let me be clear. No one directed me to write this article or helped me to do so – either in Israel or anywhere else. I am a Zionist, meaning that I believe the Jewish people have the right to a homeland like all other peoples, including the Palestinians. I abhor white supremacists, and I know they abhor me. And I will continue to engage in and support interfaith work with the Muslim community, and look forward to the day I make chicken soup with its members. 

* Named for UK High Court Judge Sir William Macpherson, which asserts that when a person says they have experienced racism, the starting point is that this should be taken in good faith as an honest report of what they have experienced, and the evidence should be looked at objectively. In 2020 the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission specifically re-stated the Macpherson Principle for Jews who say they have experienced antisemitism. The reason the EHRC felt the need to do this was that it had observed the routine violation of the principle in the Labour Party during the period in which it was, as found by the Commission, institutionally antisemitism. The Commission found that comments dismissing complaints as ‘smears’ and ‘fake’ ignoring legitimate and genuine complaints amounted to unlawful harassment.