University of Bristol Professor Dismissed Because of Comments on Israel

David Miller, an ex-professor at the University of Bristol, was dismissed for gross misconduct due to his anti-Zionist views. Last week, he gave evidence at an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal, breach of contract and discrimination or victimisation based on his philosophical beliefs.

We examine why the professor was sacked and what the tribunal has heard. Also, we explore other recent cases regarding disputes over free speech. To conclude, we discuss what beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

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University of Bristol Professor Dismissed for Anti-Zionist Views

Professor Miller was a professor at the University of Bristol. He initially drew controversy in 2019 when he said the Zionist movement contributed to islamophobia in the UK. This led to complaints from the Community Security Trust charity, saying his statements were a “false, vile… anti-Semitic slur”.

Following these complaints, an investigation revealed that his Jewish students had faced harassment and abuse. However, an academic freedom of expression report found the professor’s comments didn’t amount to unlawful speech.

Then, in February 2021, further complaints were made about the Professor following his participation in a free speech event. During this event, he spoke about the public criticism he’d experienced due to his views on Israel and Palestine. He’d previously claimed that Zionist organisations had targeted universities through a “censorship campaign”, which attacked “academic freedom”.

This resulted in the university dismissing him for gross misconduct in October 2021, explaining his behaviour didn’t meet the standards expected of university staff. Subsequently, Professor Miller brought the claims heard in this tribunal.

During the tribunal, the University of Bristol professor insisted that anti-Zionism wasn’t the same as anti-Semitism. Furthermore, he claimed it impossible for a Zionist state like Israel to be non-racist, calling Gaza an “open-air prison”.

This is the first time an individual has claimed anti-Zionist views are a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, as the tribunal continues, it’s been suggested this case could become a test for those that follow.

Free Speech Cases

Maya Forstater v CGD Europe and Others

The case of Maya Forstater v CGD Europe and Others concerned Ms Forstater’s dismissal because of her views about transgender issues. This included saying that “radically expanding the legal definition of ‘women’… will undermine women’s rights & protections for vulnerable women & girls”. Initially, a 2019 tribunal ruled against her, stating her views were not worthy of respect in a democratic society. 

However, she later won her appeal, where the judge said her views were protected under the Equality Act. As a result, she was awarded £100,000 in compensation for direct discrimination and victimisation.

Sean Corby v ACAS

In the case of Sean Corby v ACAS, Mr Corby claimed his criticism of critical race theory was a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010. He believed this theory was divisive, placing white people at the root cause of racial segregation. After receiving complaints from other employees about Mr Corby’s online criticisms, ACAS told him to take his posts down. 

Mr Corby refused and took his employer to an employment tribunal, which ruled in his favour. Following this decision, a further hearing will occur in 2024 to determine whether his protected belief was discriminated against.

What is a Philosophical Belief?

In the case of the University of Bristol professor, Ms Forstater and Mr Corby, each looks at whether the individual had a protected belief. Following the Grainger test, to have such a belief, it must be:

  • Genuinely held
  • A belief as opposed to simply just an opinion based on present information
  • Regarding a weighty, substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • Cogent, serious, coherent, and important
  • Worthy of respect in a democratic society, be compatible with human dignity, and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Should individuals meet the specific criteria, their beliefs will be protected under the Equality Act 2010. Philosophical belief discrimination occurs when you’re treated unfairly because of it, and could take many forms, such as:

  • Discrimination, whether that be direct or indirect
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation

Take a look at our guide on religious and philosophical belief discrimination here 

If you believe you’ve been discriminated against because of your belief, contact us today. We can discuss the facts of your case and advise on your possible next steps. To begin: