Written by Student Rights on 3 November 2010 at 11am

Cambridge Union member barred for 'inappropriate comment'

Last week, the Cambridge Union hosted a debate on the proposition, "This House believes Israel is a rogue state." Speaking in the affirmative for the motion was recent Muslim convert, sister-in-law to Tony Blair and Press TV journalist Lauren Booth.  On her side, a 19 year old Canadian Jewish Law student, Gabriel Latner. Upon learning that Latner was Jewish and had volunteered with the Israeli army, Booth insisted he follow her in the debate, rather than opening. 

Latner's few words to Booth before his speech is what got him in trouble.  According to various reports, Latner turned to Booth and remarked, "I am going to nail you to the fucking wall up there." The President of the Union, James Counsell decided to ban Latner stating, "His decision to verbally abuse one of our female guests using sexual language has done enormous levels of harm to the reputation of our Union, as well as crossing all boundaries of basic human decency." However, no investigation was launched, usually required from the Union before any action is taken. 

Latner went on to state, "What really bothers me is the way in which Mr Counsell treated the Union’s constitution. That is a legal document. It defines very clearly the rights and responsibilities of the members and officers. I think he ignored (or forgot) his responsibilities and he chose to disregard not just my, but every member’s rights. I’m not the type of person who will take that lying down."

Several things look to be quite strange when analysing what actually transpired during the event.  Latner went on to produce a 'pro-Israeli' argument which claimed that Israel did indeed meet the requirements for being a rogue state, albeit that this was not necessarily a bad thing.  The Palestinian Society President claims however that Latner should not have allowed to be on the side that was in effect 'Pro-Palestine' - implying that one could only be in favour of one state - a falsehood that Latner has set straight.

Other students, however, applauded Latner’s speech. According to President-Elect Davidson, "I think Gabriel’s speech was really well-informed. The Union exists to provide a platform for free speech, and so we don’t check speeches in advance." Davidson added, "The motion was not asking ‘Is this house pro or anti-Israel?’ It was asking whether Israel is a rogue state, which Gabriel argued exactly according to the motion. So, he was not arguing for the wrong side."

[Extracts from The Varsity Magazine, Cambridge]