Congressional reps probe Oberlin College pro-Iran prof. Mahallati

Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati has close ties with the Iranian regime and has been known to encourage the destruction of Israel.

Mohammad Jafar Mahallati at TEDxTehran. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Mohammad Jafar Mahallati at TEDxTehran.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A nearly two-year campaign to hold the pro-Iran regime professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati at Oberlin College accountable for his alleged role in the cover-up of the 1988 massacre of 5,000 Iranian prisoners entered congress’s power corridors in late September with lawmakers’ investigating the Islamic studies academic.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, who are on the influential congressional Committee of Education and Labor, declared in a letter to Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar and Oberlin’s Board of Trustees that "Mr. Mahallati’s current association with and his open loyalty to the Iranian regime causes serious national security concerns. It also puts into question Oberlin’s reporting of foreign funding: any omissions from this report would violate section 117 of the Higher Education Act.”

The US lawmakers wrote to Ambar, “we are disturbed by Mr. Mahallati’s well-documented involvement in human rights abuses while part of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and his continued support for Iran’s tyrannical regime while under your employment. Even more troubling is Oberlin College’s apparent decision to whitewash Mr. Mahallati’s actions when these concerns were made known to you, raising serious questions about the ideals of Oberlin College and its willingness to allow foreign interference on its campus. Mr. Mahallati’s connections with one of America’s chief adversaries are not a secret.”

Mahallati served as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador to the UN between 1987 and 1989.

Fox News first reported on the letter. 

 Protest for the removal of Oberlin College professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (credit: MELISSA LANDA) Protest for the removal of Oberlin College professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (credit: MELISSA LANDA)

The congressional probe into Mahallati’s links to the world’s worst international state-sponsor of terrorism - the Islamic Republic of Iran - follows a nearly two-year Jerusalem Post investigative series into Mahallati.

A highly detailed 2018 Amnesty International report about the 1988 massacre stressed that Mahallati played a significant role in “denying the mass killings in media interviews and exchanges with the UN to shield those responsible from accountability.”

In a 2020 statement to the Post, Mahallati rejected the Amnesty International report’s conclusion that he covered up crimes against humanity.

“Throughout Mr. Mahallati’s tenure at Oberlin, he has maintained a close association with Tehran’s tyrannical regime," was written in the letter. "In fact, it was recently reported by an investigative journalist that Mr. Mahallati serves on the board of an Iran-based journal, Sepehr-e-Siasat, with other senior Iranian regime officials connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), an organization designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department. The journal has openly praised Hezbollah, another designated Foreign Terrorist Organization supported by Iran.”

They added that “despite the fact that the journal attempted to scrub Mr. Mahallati’s name as soon as his association with it was reported, Mr. Mahallati makes no secret of his loyalty to the Iranian regime. For example, in a 2018 open letter to Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Mr. Mahallati asked the Speaker to censor a critic who suggested he may be insufficiently loyal to the regime.”

The Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists

The campaign to fire Mahallati was launched in October, 2020 by Iranians in the US and Canada, which would later form an organization called Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists.

“We are thrilled that Congressman Banks and Congresswoman Foxx heard our pleas and sent an inquiry to Oberlin," Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist who leads the Alliance, told the Post. "In the past two years, we knocked at the doors of so many Republican and Democrats in congress and the media. Unfortunately, to our disbelief, democrats stayed silent. With the current uprising of courageous young Iranians, many democrats have been awakened."

"We are currently talking to some Democratic senators, and hopefully, they will issue their own inquiry letter.”

Lawdan Bazargan

The theocratic state in Tehran executed Bazargan’s brother, Bijan, in 1988 because of his left-wing views.

The congressional letter asked Oberlin College to provide information on Mahallati’s course syllabi and whether Oberlin College has "received any funding or in-kind contributions from the Islamic Republic of Iran or from individuals or entities linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran." 

"What is the vetting process in place at Oberlin for hiring faculty, and are there additional processes for those closely linked to a hostile foreign regime?" and "What is the funding source for Mr. Mahallati’s endowed professorship, as such a post previously did not exist?" the letter went on to ask. 

Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that ”in an era where people lose their job and livelihood over politically incorrect comments they made years ago, allowing a former high-ranking regime official who, based on multiple reports and documents, engaged in denying a despicable crime against humanity to teach the next generation of Americans is baffling and worrisome.”

Oberlin students oppose Mahallati

The student newspaper, Oberlin Review, on Friday published an article by Oberlin College student Arman Luczkow   arguing the congressional inquiry “may be the best chance for the families of those killed by the Iranian regime, and for the Oberlin community, to learn the truth of Mahallati’s involvement in the massacre.”

He noted that “a potential conflict of interest casts doubt upon the College’s own investigative processes. After hiring an anonymous third party to investigate Mahallati, the College never revealed the findings, which emboldened them to declare his innocence. What court of law or institution of common sense would accept such a standard?”

Ambar and Mahallati did not respond to requests for comment by the Post.

Mahallati’s role in promoting the screening of an allegedly anti-Israel documentary at Oberlin College has also sparked criticism. 

Frieda Fuchs, an Oberlin resident who has a PhD in government from Harvard University, is involved in the campaign against Mahallati.

“It may be more than a coincidence that Oberlin College’s October 12 documentary screening of Boycott is sponsored by the Mead Swing Lecture Committee, which includes as one of its long-standing faculty members the controversial Professor Mahallati," she told the Post. "Mahallati has a long history of anti-Zionism. As a former UN ambassador, he called for Israel’s destruction. He also incorporates a strong anti-Israel bias in his courses, which is not surprising given his ties to the current regime. It may also be more than a coincidence that one of the contact persons for the documentary screening is Professor Matt Berkman of Jewish Studies. “

Fuchs, who taught political science at Oberlin College, added that “in October 2021, Berkman claimed that right-wing Iranian human rights activists and Jewish Oberlin alumni had unfairly targeted Professor Mahallati. Both groups had organized that month a demonstration on campus calling upon college President Ambar and the Board of Trustees to fire Mahallati. Matt Berkman was of the belief that there was insufficient evidence to prove Mahallati’s complicity in covering up war crimes. Additionally, Berkman contended that Oberlin Jewish alums were supporting the Iranian human rights activists in order to strike back at the college for its allegedly left-wing anti-Zionist culture.

"It may also be more than a coincidence that last May, the Peace Studies Program declined to co-sponsor with the Politics Department in honor of International Women’s Day. The talk, which featured Iranian-born Professor Sona Kazemi, pertained to a topic that is currently dominating the news - the struggle of Iranian women against their government’s policy of forced veiling. The fact that Mahallati is a member of the committee may have played a role in the committee’s decision not to co-sponsor the event.”

The Post reported in February, 2021 that Mahallati urged the destruction of Israel while at the UN and called for violent global jihad against the Jewish state. 

Oberlin College said Mahallati now supports a two-state solution for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Berkman and his wife, Shari Rabin, who is the chair of Oberlin College’s Jewish Studies program have not yet responded to a request for comment.