By Craig McKee
Truth and Shadows
Over his long and impressive academic career, Professor Anthony Hall has helped us all better understand how crises can be manufactured to manipulate public perception of narratives that serve the interests of established power.
Now, he is the victim of one of those contrived crises.
In the latest of a growing list of glaring assaults on academic freedom, Hall has been suspended without pay from his tenured teaching position at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada where he has taught for 26 years. As the result of an obviously faked and planted Facebook post, he has become the focus of a smear campaign by the Jewish lobby group B’nai Brith Canada, which is accusing him of being an “anti-Semitic Holocaust denier.”
The post appeared on Hall’s Facebook page in August without his knowledge. It featured an orthodox Jewish man being assaulted and was accompanied by text that called for the killing of all Jews. The face of the man actually doing the assaulting in the original photograph was “photoshopped” out and replaced by the face of cartoonist Ben Garrison, whose name also appears at the bottom of the text. The name of the person who made the post was given as Glen Davidson.
Hall has denied posting this and has said he was not even aware it had been there until well after its removal by Facebook. And indeed it would make no sense for Hall to make the post given that it does not reflect his views and it would be guaranteed to invite the very attacks he is now enduring. (It is worth noting a revelation reported on The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald that Facebook has been co-operating with the Israeli government to censor posts it claims to be “hate speech.”)
In an article on his web site American Herald Tribune, Hall writes: “What is behind the creation of the original post that set the controversy in motion? Who created it and why? Is this whole episode an engineered crisis?”
He goes on to question the purpose of the post itself and its text: “Quite possibly by design, the miniscule, densely compressed text is very difficult to read especially on small digital devices. Could this attribute be because the text was conceived not as a means of winning adherents but rather as a justification for political actions like the B’nai Brith’s current hate speech campaign highlighting my academic position at the University of Lethbridge?”
Hall’s suspension is pending an investigation by the university into whether the professor of liberal education and globalization studies has violated the Alberta Human Rights Act. In a statement released last week, the university did not offer details about how Hall is alleged to have violated the Act, nor will the administration offer further comment. Hall has retained a lawyer.
It is ironic that the university is looking into Hall’s potential violations of the Human Rights Act when it is Hall whose rights are being denied.
“This whole experience is causing me to say that academic freedom is menaced in Canada,” he said in an interview with Truth and Shadows.
B’nai Brith Canada, which is an affiliate of the worldwide organization B’nai Brith International, doesn’t seem at all concerned with whether Hall actually made the post. The organization has at the least grabbed the opportunity to push ahead with a nasty and slanderous campaign to get Hall fired from his teaching position. They initiated a petition calling for this and even got the Lethbridge police to look into the matter. Police determined no laws had been broken and closed the file.
“We must not allow the precedent to be set that there are things we can and cannot talk about,” Hall asserted. “Implicit in that is that universities become a place where we can’t have a questioning mentality because that might cause people to look at information that might be embarrassing to those in power.”
Hall says terms like “anti-Semitic,” “Holocaust denier,” “conspiracy theorist,” and even “9/11 truther” are weaponized terms that are used to discredit a person or point of view without any reference to actual evidence.
Hall co-hosts the podcast False Flag Weekly News with Kevin Barrett and is editor-in-chief of American Herald Tribune. He has also contributed to Truth and Shadows. He is the author of two widely praised volumes: The American Empire and the Fourth World (2005) and Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (2010). Hall has tirelessly raised awareness of the plight of North America’s indigenous people.
In his writings and public statements, Hall has apparently committed an unpardonable sin: he has criticized the ideology of Zionism and the extreme human rights violations committed by the State of Israel. He has stood up for the right of anyone to discuss and debate any subject – including the Holocaust. In Canada, of course, you can actually go to prison for challenging this. This is also true in a number of other countries, including Germany. In the U.S., you may not risk jail but you can have your livelihood taken away for this and for much less. (For some examples, see the sidebar at the end of this article.)
The university administration, and president Michael Mahon in particular, have been worse than weak through all this, making no attempt whatsoever to stand up for academic freedom, let alone freedom of speech.
A petition calling for the resignation of university board of governors chairman Kurt E. Schlachter now has more than 350 signatories. From the petition:
“On October 4, 2016, tenured Professor Anthony Hall was unlawfully disciplined by the University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
“This followed external accusations made by virulent Israel lobby groups, echoed by national media. The accusation was about a third-party post in a thread on the professor’s personal Facebook page.
“The Chair of the Board of Governors of the university, Mr. Kurt E. Schlachter, has failed to prevent or to correct the unlawful discipline of Professor Hall…”
In a meeting with Hall on Sept. 26 (which did not include Mahon), university officials told him that it was time the university and he “go their separate ways.” Hall says the university handbook contains a provision that allows for the dismissal of a tenured professor if both sides are in agreement. This is clearly not the case here.
“As I am being smeared and defamed, the U of L is also being smeared and defamed, and the intelligent thing to do would be to join forces, not become acrimonious,” Hall said.
Support for Hall has come this week from the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association in the form of a statement by association president Andrea Amelinckx.
“We call on the board of governors of the University of Lethbridge to ensure that the allegations that have been made against professor Hall are investigated with the speed and thoroughness they deserve, using the legal and contractual procedures already in place in the Post Secondary Learning Act and the contract with the Faculty Association.
“The president’s [Michael Mahon] action violates provincial law and contravenes the university’s contract with its faculty, which provides a process for investigating complaints, such as those alleged against professor Hall, in a fair, speedy, and thorough fashion.”
Media take predictable stance
The mainstream media have been predictably complicit in the attack on Hall, using the “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory” meme and the unfounded claim that he is a Holocaust denier.
Now magazine in Toronto carried a hit piece on Hall written by Bernie Farber, the executive director of the Mosaic Institute, whose mission statement reads: “The Mosaic Institute is a ‘think and do’ tank that creates platforms for learning and dialogue among diverse Canadian communities to advance justice, promote peace, and reduce conflict.”
In the article, we see familiar ad hominem attacks: “Hall gives every appearance of being both a conspiracy nutter and a classic anti-Semite.”
When Farber writes, “gives every appearance,” that’s code for “I don’t have to back this up with anything specific.”
Farber writes about how Facebook did not remove the offending post initially but later reconsidered: “Following a backlash on social media, Facebook sheepishly admitted it had erred in its assessment and the post was removed. To the best of my knowledge, Hall was never moved to delete this post himself.”
How would Farber know what Hall was and was not “moved” to do since he never contacted him?
Finally, the article connects anti-Semitism with challenges to the 9/11 official story.
“Like any good Jew-hater, Hall also engages in Jewish conspiracy theories. In 2009, after giving speech at the University of Manitoba, Hall reportedly linked Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, with 9/11.”
Is it really necessary to point out what is wrong with this statement? If you examine evidence that points to an Israeli involvement in 9/11, then you are engaging in “Jewish conspiracy theories.” And if you are doing that, you must be a “Jew hater.”
The message is simple: say anything critical of Israel and we will brand you an anti-Semitic bigot. Speak out publicly against actions of Israel and we will destroy your reputation and, if possible, your career.
Hall was interviewed on radio by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (an unsympathetic interview by host David Gray: here in its raw form and here the edited version that aired). In one article on the CBC web site, police are quoted as calling the post that appeared on Hall’s page “offensive and inappropriate” but confirmed that it did not meet the standard in the Criminal Code of Canada for “advocating genocide or public incitement of hatred.”
Police also confirmed that the post came not from Hall but from a third party.
The CBC article implies that one of Hall’s offences is that he is “alleged to be promoting conspiracy theories.” How can any reasonable human being think that “promoting conspiracy theories” is something that should put one’s academic career at risk? And what does it even mean? Conspiracies take place all the time, and the conspirators make every effort to keep them hidden from public view. Anyone who points this out, it would seem, does so at their own risk.
On hand at the CBC radio interview was American activist Jeremy Rothe-Kushel (he shot the raw video of the interview), who is fighting a battle of his own. He was arrested in May for simply asking a follow-up question of the featured speaker at an event at a library in Kansas City, Missouri (more on that at the end of this article).
The Lethbridge Herald, in an article by J.W. Schnarr, wrote that Hall was being investigated “in light of ongoing claims involving the alleged spread of conspiracy theories and anti-Zionist propaganda.”
Anti-Zionist propaganda? Apparently, it’s only propaganda when you oppose Zionism. If you support it, then you’re fine. And, once again, you can accuse someone of spreading conspiracy theories without even having to define what you mean by that.
The Canadian Jewish News put it similarly, writing that Hall had been suspended for “disseminating Zionist conspiracy theories and encouraging speculation about the Holocaust.”
Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, praised the university for suspending Hall, adding that this “has affirmed that academic freedom does not include the right to promote hateful conspiracy theories.”
Hateful conspiracy theories? What is and isn’t hateful is in the eye of the beholder, it seems to me. It appears that anyone can say anything negative they want about a Muslim country that Israel considers its enemy. You can call Palestinians terrorists, or accuse countries like Iran, Libya, or Syria of state terrorism, and no one will bat an eye. But condemn Israel for its well-documented and decades-old history of state terrorism and its horrific treatment of the Palestinians then you have to deal with pro-Israel groups accusing you of spreading “hateful conspiracy theories.” It’s double standardism carried to a ridiculous but widespread extreme.
Academics have been coming to Hall’s defense and writing to U of L president Michael Mahon. One is retired English literature professor Robin Mathews:
“… the University of Lethbridge should realize that if steps were taken to forge a fraudulent image to post on the Facebook page of Professor Hall without his even knowing it was posted there – then attempts to slander and harm him may be in full spate. The University of Lethbridge and President Michael J. Mahon simply cannot be complicit in such activity. They cannot be seen or appear to be seen as complicit in planned activity intended to slander, harm, and destroy a member of their community.”
Retired Dalhousie University professor Dr. M.R. Islam points out that much more diligence should have been exercised by the university in even opening an investigation into this case:
“A tenured professor cannot be suspended as a precautionary measure. No, you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand this. You need just a bit of conscience and some ability to read the articles in a collective agreement. And no, accusations by an interest group about the persona of a professor doesn’t form the basis for even starting an investigation.”
It seems that in this age of creeping or maybe galloping McCarthyism you risk being drummed out of your job for criticizing Israel, condemning Zionism, or even challenging the official story of 9/11.
For academic freedom to exist, and regular old freedom of speech to exist for the rest of us, every person without exception must have the right, and assert it, to question anything, including the Holocaust, including actions by the State of Israel, and including 9/11, in any combination.
Other careers attacked or under attack
There have been a number of notable instances recently of educators and others being fired and even arrested for their political statements.
Steven Salaita sued University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after the university revoked an offer professorship as a result of comments he made on social media that were highly critical of Israel. Salaita received a settlement of $875,000 from the school. Including legal fees, the case cost the school more than $2 million.
Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, was suspended with pay in August by Oberlin College in Ohio for posts she made on Facebook charging that Israel and Zionists were behind 9/11 and the Charlie Hebdo event. The suspension came a full six months after the college learned of the posts.
As mentioned above, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel was arrested after asking author and diplomat Dennis Ross about the use of state-sponsored terrorism by the U.S. and Israel. When he tried to ask a second question a private security guard grabbed his arm and pulled him away. (You can see the incident here.) The guard and an off-duty police officer, both hired by the Jewish Community Foundation, pulled Rothe-Kushel out of the room and then arrested him. He has been charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, tried to intervene and he was charged with interfering with an arrest. He says he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee when a police officer kneed him in the leg. Rothe-Kushel said he would have left on his own had he been asked. This month, R. Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the city’s library system, came to the defence of those arrested, saying that the security guards were not acting for the library and had no right to arrest anyone for asking a question. “At this stage, I’m actually outraged,” he said. “This is a big violation of the very first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Last month, Nikolaos Balaskas, a laboratory technologist in the science faculty of York University in Toronto, was fired for social media posts that the university deemed to “target identifiable groups” and “denigrate particular religious faiths including those of the Jewish faith.”
History teacher Jason Ali was fired last month from his job at Woodbridge High School in Woodbridge, New Jersey after it was found that on his teacher’s web page he had linked to a web site that featured an article alleging that the U.S. government was responsible for 9/11.
James Tracy, a tenured associate professor of journalism and media studies at Florida Atlantic University was fired earlier this year for allegedly failing to fill out certain paperwork. Tracy, who runs the Memory Hole blog, had been attacked by the mainstream media and others for his statements that the Sandy Hook event in 2012 was staged, and it appears that this was the real reason for his firing. Tracy is suing for reinstatement.
While it happened back in 2009, it is very much worth noting the experience of William Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was investigated for alleged “anti-Semitism” for an email he sent out to students comparing the Israeli occupation of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland in WWII. Robinson’s right to free speech was defended by the Foundation for Individual Freedom in Education (FIRE), which had threatened a media campaign against the university if it didn’t end the investigation. The university’s Academic Senate found in Robinson’s favor.