Former Iranian diplomat and Oberlin college professor Jafar Mahallati. Undated

US Investigates Ex-Iran Official At Oberlin College For Antisemitism

Saturday, 11/04/2023

The scandal-plagued Iranian ex-ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, is being investigated for allegedly promoting Hamas and antisemitism at Oberlin College.

The walls are closing in on the self-described “Professor of Peace,” Mahallati, who has faced accusations from Amnesty International in two reports for covering up the Iranian regime’s massacre of 5,000 dissidents while serving as ambassador to the UN in 1988.

According to a late September US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) letter obtained by Iran International, “OCR will investigate whether the College failed to respond to the harassment of students based on national origin (shared Jewish ancestry).”

Mahallati’s alleged antisemitism and praise of the US and EU-designated terrorist movement Hamas is one part of the OCR investigation, said Melissa Landa, a 1986 graduate of Oberlin College, who filed the complaint in 2019 against the small liberal arts college.

Landa told Iran International “Through his lectures and reading assignments, Mahallati glorifies Hamas and teaches his students to do the same. He also delegitimizes Israel by characterizing the Jewish state as a settler colonial endeavor.” She added that “Mahallati should be fired.”

The private liberal arts Oberlin College and conservatory of music in Ohio

The OCR complaint cites Mahallati in connection with “support for Hamas and terrorism.” The jihadi terrorist organization Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, slaughtered 1,400 people in southern Israel on October 7. Hamas kidnapped over 240 people.

The complaint cites Mahallati in connection with “support for Hamas and terrorism.”

The stakes are high for Oberlin College. According to the New York Post, “Oberlin College in Ohio could lose chunks of the millions in annual federal funding because of the probe, whose existence it has not yet disclosed to students, alumni and donors. Last year, the school took in more than $5 million in federal grants.”

After Iran International sent press queries to Mahallati and Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar, the college on Friday sent out a mass email titled “Important Message for the Oberlin Community.” According to the email, which was obtained by Iran International and not published on the college’s website, “In light of recent tensions stemming from the conflict in the Middle East and heightened concerns about antisemitism on college campuses across the country, we wanted to inform you of a letter we received from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).”

The college added “Only now, in 2023, did we receive notice of the complaint and a request for more information from the OCR. Oberlin is cooperating with the OCR and working to respond to the request.

We abhor antisemitism and all forms of hate, discrimination, and harassment. We work every day to ensure that our campus is safe for all students, faculty, and staff, including those who identify as Jewish. Antisemitism has no place on our campus.”

Iran International press queries to Ambar and Mahallati were not immediately returned. It is unclear why Ambar refused to share the information about the OCR investigation on the college’s website. Ambar has not taken any action against Mahallati despite numerous complaints about his role in covering up the mass prisoner killings in 1988. She issued a report whitewashing his alleged crimes against humanity, according to Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel laureate.

Two protesters at the gates of Oberlin college in November 2021. Photo by Melissa Landa

Ambar has also shunned the family members of the executed Iranians who asked to meet with her about Mahallati’s alleged war crimes.

The New York Post noted that “Students boycotted Mahallati’s classes, which were canceled in the spring." A spokeswoman for Oberlin told the paper that Mahallati was on “sabbatical” this teaching term. Iran International can confirm that students are boycotting the disgraced professor’s classes, including students who walked out of one of his teaching sessions.

Student clubs also refused to work with Mahallati during the effort to provide aid to Turks and Syrians during the ferocious earthquake that hit the region in February.

Landa, who founded the Alliance for Israel to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel and hostility toward Jewish students for their support of Israel, has worked with the Iranian-American organization, Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists (AAIRIA).

Lawdan Bazargan, who runs the broad-based coalition group AAIRIA, has campaigned to oust Mahallati’s from his college position since 2020. Landa and Bazargan spoke at a protest against Mahallati on the campus of Oberlin in November 2021.

Bazargan, whose brother Bijan was murdered by the regime for his left-wing views in 1988, said at the demonstration, “We want Oberlin College to fire him because Amnesty International accused him of crimes against humanity.”

The lighting rod issue of Mahallati has also spilled over to a city council campaign in Oberlin College.

Dr. Frieda Fuchs, who is a member of AAIRIA, and has penned a critical Iran International opinion article against Mahallati and his ally, Oberlin city councilmember, Ray English, said “A key point in Mahallati’s teaching is that the labeling of Hamas as a terrorist organization is evidence of Islamophobia. Mahallati’s supporters, like the former Director of Libraries at Oberlin College, Ray English, have characterized the organization of the relatives of the Iranian victims of the 1998 prison massacres (AAIRIA) who campaigned for the removal of Professor Mahallati from teaching, as a Zionist-supported right-wing organization.”

Fuchs added that even though many of the “1988 victims were leftist revolutionaries, that the organization has brought together people of various political orientations, and that there is no evidence whatsoever to sustain such a claim. Finally, during my electoral run for a seat on the Oberlin City Council, I have been subjected to a slanderous email campaign by Professor Matt Berkman from Jewish Studies, most likely because of my support for AAIRIA and advocacy against Mahallati.”

Berkman, who is seeking tenure at Oberlin College, faced criticism from Fuchs for his efforts to whitewash the evidence that Mahallati covered up the mass murder of Iranian political prisoners. Text messages reviewed by Iran International between Berkman and Fuchs state that Berkman is not sure “whether Mahallati had knowledge about them.” Berkman also dismissed Mahallati’s repeated calls for a global violent Jihad against Israel and the destruction of the Jewish state as “not very credible at all.”

Berkman advocates for the BDS movement, which the German and Austrian federal parliaments have defined as antisemitic. According to the website Carnary Mission, which tracks alleged extremist and antisemitic academics, Berkman “glorified violent protests” and supports an allegedly far-left fringe Jewish group that has faced allegations of being pro-Hamas. Berkman’s hostility toward Israel mirrors Mahallati’s reported antisemitic statements, argue his critics.

Numerous Iran International press queries sent to English and Berkman were not immediately answered.

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