Iran’s former UN ambassador Mohammad Jafar Mahallati

Oberlin College Strips Iran’s Ex-UN Envoy Of Teaching Position

Wednesday, 12/06/2023
Benjamin Weinthal

Benjamin Weinthal is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Oberlin College has placed Iran’s former UN ambassador, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, on indefinite leave from his teaching position after a campaign by Iranian Americans.

Oberlin College spokeswoman Andrea Simakis told Iran International, "On November 28, Professor Mahallati was placed on indefinite administrative leave." She declined to provide reasons for his removal.

According to a statement released on Wednesday, the Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists (AAIRIA) organization announced that “today marks a pivotal development in their campaign. Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, formerly referred to as the 'professor of peace,' appears to have been placed on permanent administrative leave from his role in the Religion Department at Oberlin College. This action comes as a result of tireless advocacy and stark revelations about Mahallati's involvement in covering up human rights abuses and his antisemitic rhetoric, underscoring a long-awaited acknowledgment of the victims' suffering.”

Mahallati reportedly covered up the mass murder of 5,000 Iranian political prisoners in 1988 when he was the regime’s ambassador to the UN.

AAIRIA also disclosed new sexual misconduct accusations against Mahallati during his time as a teaching assistant at Columbia University in the late 1990’s. Iran International was given a copy of a court document showing a settlement in the case.

Human rights activist Lawdan Bazargan outside Mohammad Jafar Mahallati’s office in Oberlin College’s religion department before and after his ouster

“AAIRIA contacted the school [Oberlin College] after unearthing court documents demonstrating that Mahallati allegedly forced a graduate student into an ‘emotionally abusive’ sexual relationship in exchange for ‘academic benefits,’ while teaching courses at Columbia University.”

AAIRA said that “Sources inside Oberlin College told AAIRIA that Mahallati was placed on permanent leave. His nameplate was removed from his office door, and references to Mahallati were scrubbed from the college’s website, including a ‘factsheet’ that defended the professor from accusations that he covered up crimes against humanity. “

When Iran International clicked on Mahallati’s profile on Oberlin College’s website, it now read “Aw, nuts… Sorry we can't find your page. Let’s try to get you back on track.”

AAIRIA sent Iran International pictures of Mahallati’s office in the religion department, showing his office before and after his ouster. His nameplate no longer appears next to his door as of December 5 when the most recent photograph was taken.

Members of the AAIRA campaign, including its lead organizer, the California-based human rights activist, Lawdan Bazargan, weighed in on Mahallati’s departure.

“It's disheartening that it took Oberlin College three years to take this crucial step,” said Bazargan, whose brother Bijan was executed in the 1988 killings. “We call upon Oberlin College to not only take these actions but also to meet with the family members of the victims to hear their voices and experiences,” she added.

Bazargan continued “Furthermore, we urge the college to demonstrate its commitment to justice by creating a memorial for the victims. This is not just about accountability; it's about honoring the memory of those who suffered in the 1980s and the 1988 massacre and ensuring that such atrocities are never forgotten."

“This development, however, should not be mistaken for swift or decisive action by Oberlin College,” said Fatemeh Pishdadian of AAIRIA, whose parents were tortured and executed by Iran’s regime in 1981. “It reflects a belated response to pressing demands for truth and justice which continued for years, echoing our call that those who shield the actions of oppressive regimes have no rightful place in our academic institutions.”

Investigative journalist Ben Baird, who uncovered the sexual harassment case against Mahallati, told Iran International “Mahallati isn’t just involved in human rights abuses and possible antisemitic teachings – he was also the defendant in a lawsuit alleging a predatory sex-for-grades relationship with a graduate student at Columbia University, where Mahallati taught courses in the 1990s. “

Baird added “Columbia settled the case with the plaintiff, Vida Shammas, for an undisclosed amount. However, the case files detailing the sordid nature of the affair, including Mahallati’s alleged attempts to blackmail Shammas if she told anyone about the quid pro quo, sat buried in government storage for decades, obstructing access to evidence of Mahallati’s potential academic malpractice.”

Mahallati did not immediately return Iran International press queries sent to his two Oberlin College emails and his personal email.

Frieda Fuchs, an Oberlin-based member of AAIRA, who has taught at the college, told Iran International “Oberlin College exhibited a significant oversight in appointing Mahallati to a tenure-track position in the Religion Department. Prior to his hiring, the institution should have considered Mahallati's role in concealing the 1988 prison massacre as a UN Ambassador, his support for UN resolutions condemning Israel, his failure as UN Ambassador to condemn the persecution of Jewish and Baha’i minorities in Iran, and his endorsement of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

She went on to say, “Additionally, Mahallati sought to use diplomatic immunity in 1998 to evade sexual harassment charges at Columbia University, resulting in a settlement. All this information, publicly accessible, should have warranted appropriate action.”

AAIRIA wrote that “We demanded Mahallati’s immediate termination after an Amnesty International report identified him as a chief conspirator in the Iran regime’s attempts to hide the 1988 massacre of an estimated 5,000 political prisoners. In late September, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights revealed that it was investigating a complaint that Mahallati taught students ‘support for Hamas and terrorism’ as part of a larger probe into anti-Semitism on Oberlin’s campus.”

AAIRA, a broad-based coalition of families of the 1988 massacre victims, human rights activists, and concerned citizens, noted in its statement that it demands that Oberlin College “clarify the rationale behind Mahallati's leave and initiate an independent investigation into the oversight of his hiring, given his alleged complicity in the 1988 massacre. The college must also ensure that Mahallati is denied any future benefits, pensions, or favorable references stemming from his work at Oberlin College.”

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