Abulafia called the concept of a blacklist “deeply objectionable"Wikimedia Commons

Content Note: contains brief mentions of antisemitism and racial slurs

Last week, outrage was sparked when art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon performed a Hitler impersonation, voiced antisemitic ideas, and used a racial slur for Black people at the Cambridge Union.

Many criticised Cambridge Union President Keir Bradwell, who was chairing the debate, for failing to intervene, leading to Keir’s subsequent apology. Some, including Cambridge SU BME officer Tara Choudhury, called for Keir to resign.


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Union President fails to intervene as speaker does Hitler impression

However, others condemned the outrage over Graham-Dixon’s impression, and the Union’s response to the incident – to place Graham-Dixon on a ‘blacklist’ – over free speech concerns. Though the Union has now U-turned on this ‘blacklist’, opinion remains divided.

Gonville and Caius Fellow David Abulafia said that he was “mystified” that “what was obviously a satirical impersonation should be regarded as anything sinister. The speaker was making plain his complete rejection of Nazi doctrine.”

Abulafia called the concept of a blacklist “deeply objectionable” likening it to the practices of the Nazis and other totalitarian regimes, calling it “a negation of the way the Union has always operated”. He accused “woke activists” of being “vigorous opponents of free speech”, claiming that “we should not underestimate the danger to all of us if their intimidation of those with different opinions continues.”

Editor of the Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard wrote to the Union on Twitter: “Your attack on Andrew Graham-Dixon is ludicrous and makes you a laughing stock. If you are going to blacklist those who [are] opposed to fascism, please blacklist me.”

On the other hand, one anonymous Jewish student told Varsity that they were “uncomfortable” when the speaker launched into a Hitler impression. “He gave no warning. I liked the blacklist idea”, they said, “I don’t think he should come back, and nor should anti semites that the Union have invited like the Malaysian PM. Sending the list to other societies would also have been helpful, so it’s disappointing that this now isn’t going to happen.”

“Free speech is important”, they continued, “but so is our right to attend events feeling safe.”

SU BME Officer Tara Choudhury said she was “surprised” to see the Union announce a black-list but “less surprised by the U-turn, which seemed inevitable given how rushed this response has been”.

“Institutional racism does not start and end with the comments of rogue individual guests”, Tara added. “Instead, the Union would do well to address the actual issue at hand, the institutionally racist environment that emboldens speakers to use racist language unchallenged in the first place.”

“I want to repeat my call for Keir to take some personal responsibility and resign, and add that I think the Union could do with implementing active bystander training and diversifying its committee to help tackle the toxic culture that tarnishes its otherwise impressive reputation and history.”