An event held at U of T has been called anti-Semitic by the Jewish advocacy organization B’nai Brith Canada; this has led to police investigation, as well as action from the university.A group called Modern Knowledge hosted a lecture with controversial activist Ken O’Keefe on April 29 at the JJR Macleod Auditorium in the Medical Sciences Building.During his address, O’Keefe propagated several anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including the accusation that Jews control the world and the denial of The Holocaust.“On a physical level, the amount of power within this tiny percentage of the human population, the Jewish population, is simply stunning! Stunning!” said O’Keefe. “Less than two per cent of the human population, and it pervades all of the high top levels of the corporate world, the banking sector, the mass media.”O’Keefe spoke out against laws restricting Holocaust denial, which are enforced in several European countries, including Germany, Austria, and France: “And in many countries, if you even criticize Israel in any kind of accurate, intelligent, or articulate way, or challenge the Holocaust narrative or the World War II narrative, you will go to prison.”O’Keefe favourably compared Adolf Hitler to John F. Kennedy for “bypassing the Jewish banking debt.” He explained, “We can see what happened to Kennedy [who was assassinated in 1963] and we know that Adolf Hitler, according to the official history, is hated because he apparently exterminated 6 million Jews.”O’Keefe attributes the creation of the State of Israel to a myth. He stated, “This does not stand in any serious history investigation, and I defy anyone to say anyone that it does. The reason why it’s important is because that narrative, the Holocaust narrative, is that which has been used to effectively steal Palestine from the Palestinians. It is the primacy of Jewish suffering which has been allowed to be used as an excuse to dispossess to Palestinians.”This event was part of O’Keefe’s Fuck the USSA/TSA/Homeland Security Tour of North America. Other Canadian tour events were held at Beit Zatoun, a Palestinian cultural centre and art gallery in Toronto, and Concordia University in Montreal. Beit Zatoun did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.AftermathIn its May 9 press release, B’nai Brith condemned O’Keefe and called him a “Neo-Nazi.” The release mentioned that the group reported O’Keefe to the police, alleging that his speech violated hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code.Amanda Hohmann, national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, told The Varsity that B’nai Brith operates a 24/7 anti-hate hotline in which people can send in complaints about incidents of anti-Semitism. “Though the hotline is actually where the first, sort of, complaint about O’Keefe came from… we’ve been sort of monitoring this for some time,” she explained.With regards to the police report, Hohmann said that the police have opened an investigation, but charges have not been filed.Concordia University spokesperson Christine Mota told The Varsity that a decision on whether to ban the group has not been made.News & media relations director Althea Blackburn-Evans confirmed that the event violated the university’s policies and that Modern Knowledge, which does not have any affiliations with U of T, will no longer be permitted to book spaces on campus.“A lot of the comments that were made were appalling, quite frankly. Any form of racism is unacceptable at U of T,” said Blackburn-Evans. “We make that very clear and some of the speaker’s comments have raised serious concerns. The speaker and this group will not be returning to campus.”Hohmann called the ban “a good step” but expressed a few concerns: “I would question, first of all, how they were allowed to book it in the beginning. O’Keefe is not a quiet figure. It’s not like he was unknown. Anybody who would’ve Googled his name, they would’ve seen it. This is what he was likely to come in and talk about. So, I question how they were allowed to do that in the beginning and I want to know what steps the university is taking to make sure that things like this aren’t going to happen again in the future.”When asked if the university knew about the nature of the event beforehand, Blackburn-Evans said, “We weren’t when the booking was made. We weren’t aware of the speaker’s comments and what the speaker would be saying specifically.”Modern KnowledgeModern Knowledge describes itself as “a Canadian based grassroots platform that assists in creating awareness about important and thought provoking subject matter that is not normally discussed in the mainstream.” Much of the content of events held by Modern Knowledge include occultist views.Modern Knowledge has previously held other events at U of T. In April 2015, the group invited UFO theorists Victor Viggiani, Stephen Basset, Stanton Friedman, and former defense minister Paul T. Hellyer to another event at the Macleod Auditorium. In August 2015, Modern Knowledge hosted an event at Bader Theatre with numerologist and flat earth theorist Marty Leeds and alternative physicist Nassim Haramein.Christopher Russak, a spokesperson for Modern Knowledge, told The Varsity that he had not been aware of the university’s response to the event as he was out of the country. Russak did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment on any of the allegations against O’Keefe.Who is Ken O’Keefe?O’Keefe is a former United States Marine who also holds Irish and Palestinian citizenship. In 2003, he gained notoriety as part of a group of anti-war activists who travelled to Iraq to act as “human shields,” in an attempt make it more difficult for American-led troops to attack non-military targets.O’Keefe was also involved in the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, in which civilian ships defied Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip to send humanitarian aid. He was accused of assisting Hamas and spent several nights in an Israeli jail before being deported.O’Keefe has regularly appeared as a guest on Russia Today and PressTV, which are state-owned media outlets from Russia and Iran, respectively. His North American tour was also slammed by the Anti-Defamation League, which called O’Keefe an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist.”At press time, O’Keefe had not responded to The Varsity’s inquiries.
Published: 9:12 pm, 3 June 2016
Modified: 1:11 pm, 7 June 2016