Oberlin College suspended its so-called “professor of peace” from his tenured position after it was revealed that the US Department of Education launched a probe into his antisemitism. In November and December, Iran International and the New York Post reported that Mahallati sexually harassed a student.
The dual American and Iranian citizen, Mohammad Jafer Mahallati, was formally stripped of his teaching post in November. The Jerusalem Post was the first news organization to report on the Iranian dissident campaign to oust Mahallati in 2020 for his alleged crimes against humanity.
In late September, the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced an inquiry into alleged rampant antisemitism at Oberlin College. “OCR will investigate whether the College failed to respond to the harassment of students based on national origin (shared Jewish ancestry),” wrote the OCR.
A history of antisemitism
Mahallati has a long history of stoking genocidal antisemitism, including calling for a global jihad against Israel during his tenure as Iran’s ambassador (1987-1989) to the UN.
According to Melissa Landa, a 1986 Jewish-American graduate of Oberlin College, who filed the OCR complaint in 2019 against the small liberal arts college, “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.”
The US and the EU classified Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization. Landa said that “Mahallati should be fired.”
Amnesty International and the Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists (AAIRIA) accused Mahallati of using his position as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador to the UN in 1988 to cover up the regime’s massacre of 5,000 Iranian dissidents in the same year.
Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist who oversees AAIRIA, told the Post, “In the past 3.5 years, President Carmen Twillie Ambar and the Board of Oberlin College have displayed a concerning level of hostility towards our campaign and the families of the victims. This behavior serves as a stark example of inadequate leadership. Instead of addressing our concerns with sincerity, the administration resorted to spreading baseless rumors, labeling us as ‘right-wing Trumpists,’ ‘Islamophobic,’ or ‘agents of Israel.’ They intended to stifle our calls for justice and accountability.”
AAIRIA has requested that Oberlin College create a memorial for the victims of 1988 mass murder and set up a curriculum to educate students about the dangers of Islamism being comparable to Soviet communism and fascism.
Bazargan said,” The theocratic nature of the Iranian regime, for instance, bestows supreme authority upon Allah, thereby constraining individuality and personal freedoms, which are pillars of Western societies. In contrast, progressive universities should prioritize the promotion of democratic principles such as autonomy, liberty, and pluralism, which are cherished by Western democracies.”
Bazargan, who was incarcerated by Iran’s regime in the 1980s for her political activities, added, “It is high time for progressive universities to embrace a more responsible role. Rather than inadvertently promoting the interests of theocratic or oppressive regimes, they should champion the true voices of those suffering under such regimes. They should actively support the spread of democracy and democratic values.”
The investigative journalist Ben Baird, who uncovered the sexual harassment case against Mahallati, told the Post that “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, who is also Director of the Middle East Forum’s Action program, where this author is a Writing Fellow, added “Columbia settled the case with the plaintiff for an undisclosed amount. “
He added, “However, the case files detailing the sordid nature of the affair, including Mahallati’s alleged attempts to blackmail” the plaintiff “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.”
Additional accusations against Mahallati
Iran International TV first reported that a former Oberlin College student accused Mahallati of sexually abusing her.
According to the Iran International TV segment, a journalist for the outlet said, “I have reliable information that at least one Oberlin College student was directly sexually assaulted by Mahalati in 2008, who has not dared to speak up publicly until now. I hope this New York Post article will encourage her to come forward.”
Oberlin College’s spokeswoman, Andrea Simakis, told the Post that “This is the first we’re hearing about an allegation that Professor Mahallati raped an Oberlin College student.”
Simakis said, “Professor Mahallati was placed on indefinite administrative leave on November 28. We learned of the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York against Mahallati from a media inquiry sent to us on December 5. We would not hire a faculty member whom we knew had a history of sexual assault, harassment, or abuse of anyone, including a student, colleague, or staff member.”
She continued that “We have no record of an allegation that Mahallati raped a student while he was a professor at Oberlin College. We encourage current and former students who have been sexually assaulted, harassed, or abused by any employee of Oberlin to come forward. We will not tolerate sexual offenses at Oberlin. We take all reports of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse extremely seriously. Today, if a student reports they have been sexually assaulted, harassed, or abused by a faculty or staff member, a formal investigation is conducted by an outside law firm. “
Mahallati refused to respond to numerous Post press queries. Mahallati’s supporters, the Oberlin city councilman Ray English and Oberlin College’s controversial academic Matthew Berkman, who teaches in the college’s allegedly anti-Israel Jewish Studies program, declined to comment.
According to the website Canary Mission, “Matthew Berkman has glorified violent protesters, demonized Jewish organizations and Israel and is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
Canary Mission noted that “As of April 2022, Berkman was listed as a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) member on JVP’s website. In 2017 Berkman was reportedly a JVP Steering Committee member and an ‘organizer with JVP’ since 2013. Berkman was a member of JVP Philadelphia (JVP Philly) in 2014, 2017 and 2018.”
In October, the New York Post reported that JVP is one of the groups rallying for Hamas in its war against the Jewish state.