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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Oxford Union in Hitler historian row
Oxford University
The university's student union supports a boycott
Oxford Union's decision to invite the controversial historian David Irving to take part in a debate has led to threats of a boycott.

Mr Irving, described by a High Court judge as racist and sympathetic to right-wing extremists, is due to speak on Thursday in a motion "this house would restrict the free speech of extremists".

David Irving
Mr Irving has controversial views on the Nazi persecution of the Jews
But general secretary of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), David Triesman, said giving Mr Irving a platform would only inflame racial tension and he called for an "academic boycott" of the union.

In a letter to the president of the union, Amy Harland, Mr Triesman said: "As an educator, a trade unionist and a passionate advocate of the notion of tolerance and inclusion, I cannot accept your contention that it is correct to allow Mr Irving a platform at such a prestigious institution as the union".

It would not be possible for the UK to develop as a multicultural and free society while the views of people like Mr Irving were offered refuge by important institutions like the union, Mr Triesman said.

"If the Oxford Union feels compelled to proceed with the invitation I must inform you that this would leave me with no other option than to call for an academic boycott of the union both in this country and from amongst the academic community and other trade unions throughout the world."

Lost libel case

In the High Court last year, Mr Irving, author of Hitler's War and a biography of Goebbels, lost his libel battle over a book by academic Deborah Lipstadt which described him as a "Holocaust denier".

The judge Mr Justice Gray found that Mr Irving was "an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism".

David Triesman
Mr Triesman says the decision may inflame racial tension
Oxford Union insisted Mr Irving was not being invited to voice his views about the Holocaust and said the debate would only be cancelled if the police warned of a "substantial risk" to public safety.

A union spokesman voiced surprise the AUT's protest, saying they had not been approached by the organisation.

"If they were so concerned, why did they not take the opportunity to contact us - we would have been more than happy to explain our reasoning," he said.

The Oxford Student Union supported the call to cancel Mr Irving's visit.

"If this debate goes ahead, there will be a demonstration outside," president Kirsty McNeill said.

An invitation for Mr Irving to speak at the Oxford Union last year was cancelled after protests.

Free speech

But Mr Irving defended his right to speak out.

"To judge by his name, Mr Triesman is Jewish. That being so, I can only say that this is another sign that the Jewish community has become the traditional enemy of free speech," he said.

"Everywhere around the world, they are at the forefront of a campaign to silence me.

"I have always been vigorously in favour of free speech," he said.

QC pulls out

Mr Irving was to have been opposed at the Oxford Union by Richard Rampton, QC, who successfully defended Ms Lipstadt in the libel case last year.

But a university spokesman said Mr Rampton had withdrawn because, since Mr Irving was planning an appeal, he would continue to represent Ms Lipstadt.

It is hoped Mr Rampton will be replaced by the shadow attorney-general, Edward Garnier QC, who will be debating alongside John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney.

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