A UK employment tribunal has ruled for the first time that anti-Zionist beliefs are protected under the Equality Act.
David Miller is a sociologist and previously professor at Bristol University. His research focusses on the use of propaganda and lobbying to sustain power. Miller is an “anti-Zionist”. He defines “political Zionism” as “an ideology which holds that a state for Jewish people ought to be established and maintained in the territory that formerly comprised the British Mandate of Palestine”. Miller believes that political Zionism is “inherently racist, imperialistic and colonial” and “ought to be opposed”.
In 2019, Miller asserted in a lecture that Zionism was one of the five “pillars” driving Islamophobia in the UK. The Community Security Trust, a charity which aims to protect UK Jews from antisemitism, made a complaint to Bristol University, claiming that Miller’s statement about Zionism was a “false, vile, anti-Semitic slur”. Bristol University investigated Miller and found that his statement did not express “hatred towards Jews”, and that Miller “was at pains to distinguish between Zionism and Israel, on the one hand, and Jewish people”. Following the investigation, the university took no further action.
In 2021, Miller participated in an event titled “Building the Campaign for Free Speech” where he claimed that it is “fundamental to Zionism to encourage islamophobia and anti-Arab racism”. Miller also stated that there was a “real question… of Jewish students on British campuses being used as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”. Bristol University launched a further investigation, which found that although Miller’s comments were within the law, they constituted gross misconduct. As a result, Miller was fired in October 2021.
In response, Miller launched an employment tribunal against Bristol University. On the 4th February 2024, the tribunal issued its judgement. The tribunal found that Miller’s anti-Zionist beliefs, specifically, his beliefs that
(1) political Zionism (which Miller defines as an ideology which holds that a state for Jewish people ought to be established and maintained in the territory that formerly comprised the British Mandate of Palestine) is inherently racist, imperialistic and colonial, and;
(2) political Zionism ought therefore to be opposed
are protected philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act. The tribunal found that Miller was dismissed because of his anti-Zionist beliefs, and that Bristol University committed direct discrimination by dismissing him. Similar anti-Zionist beliefs are likely to be found to be protected in future.
Miller’s belief that Zionism is inherently racist, and that Jewish students may be used as “political pawns” by the Israeli government, is highly controversial and will be found offensive by many. However, neither controversy nor offence can justify Miller’s dismissal. Miller’s victory is a victory for academic freedom.