Claims by Bristol university lecturer David Miller that Jewish students are “political pawns” of Israel have been condemned in Parliament.
Professor David Miller has faced a barrage of criticism in the House of Lords, where a Tory frontbencher branded his views “ill-founded and reprehensible”.
Peers heard the behaviour of the University of Bristol academic had led to Jewish students “being subjected to weeks of harassment and abuse”.
Supporters of Prof Miller, who is professor of political sociology and a member of the School for Policy Studies, have previously warned over “an attack on academic freedom”.
The controversy was raised in the upper chamber by former Labour minister Lord Austin on Dudley, who quit the party under Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism.
Responding for the Government, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “Universities are independent and autonomous organisations.
“Accordingly, the Government have not intervened directly in this case, but we consider that the University of Bristol could do more to make its condemnation of Professor Miller’s conduct clear to current and future students.”
He added: “Prof Miller has expressed some ill-founded and reprehensible views, and the Government wholeheartedly reject them.”
In the House of Lords today, Lord Parkinson reiterated that the Government "wholeheartedly rejects" the views held by Professor David Miller.
— CFoI (@CFoI) March 24, 2021
Following up on this, Lord Austin, a non-affiliated peer, said: “Academics do have freedom of speech, including to criticise Israel, but Prof Miller does not have the right to attack Jewish students as being part of an Israel lobby group that makes Arab and Muslim students unsafe.
“Bristol should not be employing someone to teach students wild conspiracy theories about Jewish people.
“His behaviour has resulted in Jewish students being subjected to weeks of harassment and abuse.
“Bristol must support its students and take this much more seriously.”
Lord Parkinson said: “Academics, of course, have the right to espouse views that many might find offensive, perhaps even idiotic, and universities should be places where such views can be rigorously and vigorously debated.
“What makes this case concerning is Prof Miller’s comments about his own students, suggesting that their disagreement with his views is because they are political pawns of a foreign government or part of a Zionist enemy, which has no place in any society.”
Leading lawyer and independent crossbencher Lord Pannick said: “Has the minister noted that Prof Miller has suggested that by joining a university Jewish society, students are thereby associating themselves with racism and Islamophobia?
“Will the minister note that many students join Jewish societies because they wish to attend religious services or go to parties? They may simply wish to have a nourishing and regular bowl of chicken soup.”
Lord Parkinson said: “That suggestion is at the heart of this issue because it implies that Prof Miller can understand the motivations or the political views of Jewish students at the University of Bristol who join a Jewish society.
“We think that is wrong and very ill-founded, and that is what causes us such concern in this case.”
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