A university academic who was sacked after making comments criticising Israel has successfully claimed at an employment tribunal that he experienced discrimination based on his anti-Zionist belief in a landmark ruling.
Professor David Miller was also found to have been unfairly and wrongfully dismissed by the University of Bristol in October 2021.
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 launched employment tribunal proceedings claiming unfair dismissal, breach of contract and discrimination or victimisation on grounds of religion or belief.
At the conclusion of proceedings, Prof Miller successfully claimed discrimination “based on his philosophical belief that Zionism is inherently racist, imperialist, and colonial, a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010”, his legal representatives, Rahman Lowe, announced on Monday.
“This judgment establishes for the first time ever that anti-Zionist beliefs are protected in the workplace,” the firm said.
Prof Miller said he is “very proud” to have established that anti-Zionist views qualify as a protected belief.
“I am extremely pleased that the Tribunal has concluded that I was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed by the University of Bristol,” he said.
“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.”
Zillur Rahman, who represented the academic at the tribunal, said his client has been “vindicated”.
He 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.
“The timing of this judgment will be welcomed by many who at present are facing persecution in their workplaces for speaking out against the crimes of the Israeli state, and the genocide taking place in Gaza.
“I am delighted for our client, David, who has been vindicated.”
The lawyer said his client will be seeking “maximum compensation” for the impact the events have had on his career.
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 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.
But 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 University of Bristol said in a statement that it acknowledges the judgment of the tribunal but is “disappointed with its findings”.
The statement continued: “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 added: “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.”