A protest took place against the controversial right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro appearing at the Oxford Union today.
The group involved activists from “Stand Up to Racism”. Beforehand, they laid out Shapiro’s controversial views in a statement, calling him “a racist, islamophobic, climate-change denying, transphobic, homophobic, anti-Palestinian bigot”.
Students had queued all along St Michael’s Street and around the block to hear Shapiro speak. However, only 200 people were in the Union chamber, with the upper level restricted to ensure that there were no potential threats.
In Trinity 2023, an activist glued themself to the ground while Kathleen Stock spoke on trans rights and gender at the Oxford Union.
Today’s protestors chanted “Oxford Union here us say, hate speech no way”, “Ben Shapiro we know you, you’re a racist through and through”, and “Oxford Union you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide”.
SU VP Mia Clement was also present at the event, seen holding a sign that stated “Freedom for Palestine” and joining chants saying “Israel is a terrorist state”. Clement has previously protested at the Oxford Students for Life (OSfL) Freshers’ Fair stall, and at Bonn Square against government policy on transgender people.
On Clement’s appearance, the SU commented: “Mia attended the protest in a personal capacity, not in the capacity of a Sabbatical Officer. Oxford SU supports everyone’s right to freedom of speech, and we will continue to do so. We stand in solidarity with anyone who has been affected by the ongoing conflict.”
In the chamber, Shapiro made controversial remarks such as “[anyone] who draws comparisons between Israel and the Hamas is a Jew-hater” and that “[he] will absolutely not condemn [the killings of Gazan civilians by the IDF operations against Hamas]”.
On the conflict, he held “[civilian] casualties are a necessary cost of war”, dismissing a question on the issue from a Union member with a comparison to the fact “[more] German civilians died in WWII than Brits”.
Shapiro’s views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, including controversial remarks such as “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage”, have become especially controversial in light of recent events. A number of protests have taken place in Oxford responding to the crisis in recent months.
A former Union officer told The Oxford Student that Ben Shapiro was “disgusting”, and he believed that the Union was creating “controversy for controversy’s sake”.
A protest organiser stated that he decided to protest because Shairo “supports hate speech.” He added that “Israel has put Gaza into an open-air prison […] multiple human rights organisations have realised that, and yet he keeps telling people to have this idea of Arabs and Palestinians, as well as trans people. He is just a hateful person.”
He also added that Shapiro “pretends that he is in support of freedom of speech, but he has mobilised haters from all around […] and yet, we see people coming here to listen to him, and we say no more.” He also stated that he wanted to make people aware of the “genocide that is happening in Palestine”.
Another participant in the protest said they were there “on behalf of the Palestinian people” and cited statistics of those “killed by Israeli strikes”. They criticised Shapiro as a prominent supporter of Israel in media appearances, so attended the protest “to stand against anyone that says that Israel is just defending itself”.
One student attempted to vault the Union fence and was met with immediate police intervention. Speaking to The Oxford Student, she gave several narratives behind her action, eventually stating that “[she] wanted to protest”.
Reporting by Daisy Outram, Milo Dennison, Martin Alfonsin Larsen, and Gaspard Rouffin.
Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys for The Oxford Student