Having been accused of antisemitic comments, a sociology professor, David Miller at the University of Bristol has been found to have been discriminated against. This case recognises anti-Zionist views as beliefs and has stirred significant debate surrounding the fine line between anti-Zionist beliefs and antisemitism.

Whilst the University of Bristol believed they were safeguarding against discriminatory behaviour, they have instead been found themselves to have been discriminatory in dismissing the professor for his anti-Zionist views. This case appears to recognise anti-Zionist views as a protected characteristic under 'religion or belief'.


Mr Miller was scrutinised for referring to Zionism as a driving factor in promoting Islamophobia. This was criticised and there was call for him to be removed.

Despite the university's dismissal of these complaints, the situation escalated when Mr Miller criticised Zionist activities during a free speech event and linked Jewish student groups in the UK to political objectives allied with Israel. This sparked further controversy, with Mr Miller's comments drawing both support and criticism, leading to increased pressure on the university to take action, notably after the issues were discussed in the House of Commons.

Following an investigation into Miller's conduct, which found that his comments were not antisemitic, but did breach the university's codes of conduct and policies; the university dismissed him.

The Decision

The Tribunal later ruled that the university subjected Mr Miller to discriminatory and unfair misconduct proceedings and was discriminated against based on his philosophical belief.

The Tribunal found that Mr Miller's anti-Zionist views were protected philosophical beliefs as they were genuinely held, played a significant role in his life, based on his own research and understanding of Zionism, informed by his own academic expertise and were coherent and cogent.

The Tribunal recognised the university's concerns over the impact of Mr Miller's expressions on its reputation and the welfare of its students and staff as legitimate, but nevertheless concluded that his dismissal was due to the manifestation of his beliefs – constituting direct discrimination and an unfair dismissal under employment law.

The university's decision to dismiss Mr Miller was considered disproportionate and unnecessary under a balancing test considering whether balancing the severity and effects of the dismissal against the importance of the legitimate aims identified by the university. The Tribunal concluded from this that it was not necessary to dismiss Mr Miller. The Tribunal did also conclude that it would have been proportionate to issue some disciplinary sanction based on the facts they had at the time. It was found that dismissing Mr Miller has not in fact materially protected the university's reputation and a less intrusive sanction than dismissal could have been used without unacceptable compromising the achievement of its objectives.

Furthermore, it was the university's failure to re-hear Mr Miller's seven-point appeal that lead the Tribunal to conclude a case in favour of Mr Miller for direct discrimination. Despite holding a hearing for the appeal correctly and issuing a 32-page appeal outcome which considered each ground of appeal, the university made it clear from the outset of the hearing, that the appeal was to be conducted as a review of the earlier disciplinary decision. The appeal panel only adopted the analysis of the earlier decision without material alteration to the original rationale, indicating that Mr Miller's grounds were not thoroughly considered and investigated. This approach was criticised as the appeal panel failed to take account of Mr Miller's points of appeal that expanded on the original decision.

Despite Mr Miller arguing that the disciplinary process created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, the Tribunal found the process to in fact be reasonable, diligent and in accordance with the university's policy. Therefore, the disciplinary process was found to be reasonable, it was the decision that was not.

The Tribunal upheld Mr Miller's claim finding he was unfairly and wrongful dismissed and that he was discriminated against for his beliefs.

Learning Points

This ruling has sparked discussions surrounding the recognition of anti-Zionist views as a protected belief, with some claiming that this sets a dangerous precedent. This is a significant development in shaping perceptions of protected characteristics, but it is important to note that each case will continue to be considered on its individual facts.

The case serves as a reminder of the complexities surrounding freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the need for institutions to navigate these issues with diligence and sensitivity.

It does stress the importance of having clear policies and procedures, and a shared understanding brought about through training and awareness. It also highlights the necessity for organisations to maintain up-to-date equal opportunities, diversity, and inclusion policies, along with comprehensive training on discriminatory conduct.

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