A professor invited to speak at the University of Winnipeg earlier this month was accused of anti-Semitism after his lecture, sparking a debate on the limits of academic free speech.
Anthony Hall, professor in the department of globalization studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, was invited to speak by the U of W’s sociology department as their annual distinguished lecturer on March 6.
He presented a paper called Bush League Justice: Should George W. Bush be Arrested in Calgary Alberta to be Tried for International Crimes?.
After his lecture, Hall was confronted by a group including Rhonda Spivak, editor of local publication The Jewish Post and News, and U of W psychology professor Evelyn Schaefer.
The group accused Hall of anti-Semitism based on an unrelated article, in which he suggested Israeli intelligence services, among many others, had prior knowledge of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The article appears on mtl911truth.org, a website that also features a swastika.
The 9-11 Truth movement believes the infamous terrorist attacks were an inside job orchestrated by the American government, possibly in conjunction with other nations.
“It was almost like they were conducting a trial,” Hall said of the confrontation.
Hall said the group physically blocked his exit from the classroom.
“It was very clear that the intention was to hurt me professionally,” he said.
In the Mar. 11 issue of The Jewish Post and News, Spivak wrote, “the Department of Sociology at U of W ought to be reproached for its very dismal choice of bringing in Dr. Anthony Hall to deliver its ‘distinguished’ annual lecture.”
Spivak and Schaefer both refused comment on the incident.
Michael Dudley, a research associate and library co-ordinator at the U of W’s Institute of Urban Studies who attended Hall’s lecture, said the treatment Hall experienced on campus is unacceptable as it discourages free speech in academia.
“That’s what an academic institution ought to do, to invite people who are controversial.”
According to Dudley, Hall’s statements to the effect that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad had foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks are based on well-known reports from the mainstream media, including the Sunday Telegraph and Fox News, and not on fringe websites.
“These reports have been part of the public record for years. To say that he’s anti-Semitic for citing these mainstream news stories, and then to imply that our sociology department who invited him is also anti-Semitic – it’s so wrong.”
Hall said his views are not anti-Semitic.
“I’ve done my homework on this subject and I really resent any suggestion that I am a Nazi,” he said.
“That is not a Nazi site,” he said about the 9-11 Truth website that posted his article.
Patrick Biron, the website’s administrator, said the swastika image on his site, which is made of bullets and features the American, British, Israeli and NATO flags, is not a sign of Nazi affiliation but an image that he posted to raise awareness for a specific movie on his website.
“The image is meant to be eye-catching and provocative,” Biron said.
The symbol references an alliance of western countries allegedly engaged in a terrorist operation against their own nations, he said.
“Hitler was the worst evil ever. Well, this is another kind of evil and we have to watch out for it,” Biron said.
But Bob Freedman, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, said this long-winded explanation is irrelevant.
“If you go to the website, would you understand that?”
It’s what you see that counts, he said.
Freedman said Hall uses his status as an academic as a get-out-of-jail-free card for his controversial views.
“This is a guy walking under the guise of an academic, and at the end of the day he was challenged and he didn’t like it,” he said.
Hall said the incident reflects poorly on the U of W and how they treat guests in their institution.
He feels the U of W should have provided security staff for his lecture due to the heightened sensitivity of anti-apartheid week, during which it took place.
In the meantime, U of W administration is taking its time mulling over the case.
“The University will be interviewing all relevant witnesses and those involved in the incident,” Diane Poulin, communications officer for the U of W, wrote in an e-mail. “Our goal of the process is to ensure that we clearly understand what occurred and determine whether there has been any violation of university policy on anyone’s part.”
Poulin stated the university will determine its “course of action, if any, based on the results of the investigation.”
The sociology department could not release a comment before press time.
Dudley hopes the U of W will apologize to Hall for the treatment he experienced on campus.
“I worry that by remaining silent about these accusations the university is giving credence to them,” he said.
Published in Volume 63, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 26, 2009)