Speaking at the Union tonight, Ben Shapiro discussed and debated Israel’s right to retaliate in Gaza, abortion, and the upcoming 2024 American election. While the top chamber was left empty for safety, the rest was full, with the queue reaching out of the Union gates to St Peters. Roughly 20 people also protested outside of the event.
Ben Shapiro, an American Conservative commentator, is is notably known as a former journalist for the right-wing online publication Breitbart News. He is also the founder and editor of the online news website and company The Daily Wire and host of the Ben Shapiro Show. He is renowned for his conservative views regarding abortion and the LGBTQ+ community, ‘Judeo-Christian values’, and interventionist foreign policy.
Shapiro’s presence led to a protest outside of the Union, organised by the October Club along with nine other Oxfordshire-based groups, including the Oxford Socialist Worker Student Society and the Oxford Anti-Fascists. An Instagram post announcing the protest called Ben Shapiro “a racist, Islamophobic, climate-change denying, transphobic, homophobic, anti-Palestinian bigot.”
Protesters carried Palestinian flags and signs that read: “No racist hate speakers at the Union.” They further chanted “Ben Shapiro we know you, you’re a racist through and through” and “Oxford Union you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide.”
Inside the event, Union President Disha Hegde began by asking Ben Shapiro what he thought about the protest outside. Shapiro responded to this by saying “I say things that I think are true, some people find these things controversial,” adding that he was grateful to live in a Western country which guaranteed freedom of speech.
Shapiro further criticised the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which he called a “genocidal comment.”
He also drew the attention of the entire chamber by pulling out photos of atrocities from the 7 October attacks on Israel to demonstrate the “evil of Hamas.” He followed this by saying that “anyone who draws a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas is a Jew-Hater.”
When asked whether there was a contradiction in his belief that “no one should be fired for their tweets” and his calls for certain journalists to be fired for their “anti-Israel” coverage, he eventually replied “sure,” eliciting applause from the crowd.
Hegde further questioned whether Shapiro wanted to “condemn the deaths of innocent Palestinians by the IDF.” He firmly replied “absolutely not,“ saying that “it is not the same evil when Hamas kills a baby, as when the IDF bombs a terrorist who is hiding behind a baby.”
The tension in the room took a backseat for a minute, as Hegde inquired about Shapiro’s coverage of “pop culture” topics. When asked why he decided to publish a “43 minute rant about the Barbie movie,” Shapiro simply responded “because it’s funny.”
After this, members were invited to debate Shapiro at the dispatch box. The dominant topic was the Israel-Palestine conflict, with debate ranging from finer points of the conflicts history to allegations that Shapiro had published an AI generated image of Hamas attacks – which he strongly denied.
When confronted on the thousands of civilians killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza, Shapiro drew an analogy between the Allied bombing of Nazi Germany and Israel’s bombing of Gaza and stated that “civilian casualties are a cost of war.” When the opposing speaker said that the British had not engaged in civilian bombing, the audience loudly disagreed.
Further debate was held over the role of Jordan in the conflict. One member, who began by saying “Ben it’s an absolute displeasure to see you”, criticised Shapiro for his statements on Jordan, stating that “Jordan has never been part or considered part of Palestine.” Shapiro contested the member’s account, saying “I listened to your whole bullshit history for five minutes.” This was followed by a heated dispute between the two.
Former Union President, Charlie Mackintosh, also asked a question on whether the West can stand up for its values. In response, Shapiro claimed that the current consequence of what is occurring in the West is “the dissolution of the West” and that a “morally relativistic state cannot stand up for itself.”
Regarding the American political climate, Shapiro said that the current race seems to be an “inevitable consequence of the two-party trend” and that the “usual nature of politics is negative in orientation.” He stated that the “first party of irrationality is likely to win” and endorsed Ron DeSantis in the Republican primaries.
Following a question on his refusal to support Biden over Trump, Shapiro said that “Trump seems to be a serious threat to American Democracy” given his comments on the “suspension of the American constitution.” He added that Biden represents a less obvious and subtle threat to American democracy and that the “transformation of the United States political system comes in a wide variety of forms.” To this, the member responded: “I think that position is absolutely untenable.”
When asked by a member how he could justify unsafe abortions, Shapiro retorted that he is “not interested” in women dying if they violate the law, as his “number one priority is to protect the baby inside of her.” Regarding Black Lives Matter, he stated that “he doesn’t agree with the fundamental premise” of the movement.
The Union had a Welfare Officer and a welfare room prepared for the event.