I’ve covered some wild things at Oberlin College over the years. There’s just so much low-hanging news fruit.

The Great Oberlin Racism Hoax of 2013. Joy Karega, the Professor of ‘social justice writing’ who spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. The aggressive anti-Israel disruptions and activism. Protests against Christina Hoff Sommers. The 14-page student Demand List that included hiring and promotion based on race. Complaints about cultural appropriation of Asian food in the dining hall. John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2. Oberlin’s Culture of Theft. And of course, the campus-wide and continuing assault on the Gibson Family and their bakery.

Nothing about Oberlin College would surprise me after all that. Or so I thought. But I have to admit, when readers emailed me this story, I didn’t see it coming.

Mohammad Jafar Mahallati is nicknamed Oberlin College’s ‘Professor of Peace.’

Mahallati now stands accused by the Iranian opposition of being complicit in crimes against humanity by virtue of allegedly falsely denying mass killings in 1988 by the regime when he was Iran’s Ambassador to the U.N. (He is not accused of participating in the killings.)

The Chronicle newspaper in Oberlin was the first to report the story in an article by Jason Hawk. (Bonus question, who remembers the role Hawk played in the Gibson’s case?).

Here is an excerpt from Hawk’s report, Oberlin College professor, former diplomat under fire for 1988 mass killings in Iran:

A letter sent to college President Carmen Twillie Ambar on Wednesday calls for Mahallati’s termination.

It is signed by 626 people, including former political prisoners in Iran, the families of prisoners who were executed and human rights activists.

Mahallati, who now serves as the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair in Middle East and North African Studies at Oberlin College, was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1987 to 1989.

The letter said his role was to “obfuscate and lie to the international community about mass crimes perpetrated by the Iranian regime” — specifically, the killing of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

That year, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered political prisoners to be subjected to sham trials by so-called “death commissions,” according to Amnesty International….

The letter sent to Oberlin College accuses Mahallati of failing to use his position at the United Nations to draw attention to the massacre.

It also claims he denied the killings during a meeting with the U.N. Special Representative on human rights in Iran.

Amnesty International also said in 2018 that Mahallati was among the senior officials and diplomats who “were actively involved in denying the mass killings in media interviews and exchanges with the UN to shield those responsible from accountability.” ….

Mahallati joined Oberlin College in 2007. Since then, he has become known as the “professor of peace.”

Mahallati founded the annual Oberlin Friendship Festival, developed a religion course called “Ethics of Friendship: Perspectives in Religion, Politics, Economics and Arts” and launched the Oberlin Friendship Initiative to promote international, interfaith and intercultural justice and peace. He has also been a regular part of peace protests held at noon each Saturday on Tappan Square.

“What is really normal is friendship,” Mahallati said in an April 2019 talk at Kendal at Oberlin. “What is totally (not) normal is hatred, indifference and war.”….

Here is part of a Twitter threat by one of the people involved in the letter, which demands Mahallati’s termination.

Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar apparently did not appreciate being included in the Twitter thread:

This tweet is by an international human rights lawyer, and Executive Director of U.N. Watch:

The story elicited some on-point snark:

I emailed Oberlin College’s spokesman for comment, but as of this writing have not received a response.

I also emailed Professor Mahalatti seeking his response to the accusations and his point of view on this controversy, but also have not received a response as of this writing.

UPDATE 10:15 p.m:

Oberlin College’s spokesman has not responded to me, but he did respond to the Jerusalem Post:

Scott Wargo, director of  Media Relations for Oberlin College, wrote The Jerusalem Post by email, saying “Professor Mahallati is a tenured professor and has been a teacher at Oberlin since 2007. We received the letter today expressing concerns about his statements during a meeting with United Nations representatives more than 30 years ago. We are in touch with Professor Mahallati to gather additional information.”

UPDATE 10-9-2020 2:10 p.m.

Prof. Mahalatti forwarded this Response Statement from M. Jafar Mahallati:

Statement in Response to Allegations

I feel deeply for the ongoing suffering of family members of the victims of violence against political prisoners. Summary executions are horrible acts and are indeed crimes against humanity wherever they happen.

During my years at Oberlin, and because of my long anti-war activism, I have come under attack by a spectrum of war-lobby protagonists both in the US and in the Middle East.

On October 8, 2020, an email was sent to the President of Oberlin College from Kaveh Shahrooz and Lawdan Bazargan that asserted their belief that when I was serving as Iran’s ambassador to the UN in 1988, I “obfuscated” and “lied” to the international community about mass executions of prisoners by the Iranian regime in the summer of 1988.

The accusers fail to provide a single solid document as evidence of my actual knowledge of these incidents. With no concrete evidence, they infer that I must have been informed and intentionally denied these atrocities.

I categorically deny any knowledge and therefore responsibility regarding mass executions in Iran when I was serving at the United Nations. I was in New York the entire summer of 1988, focusing on peacemaking between Iran and Iraq and did not receive any briefing regarding executions. There was not a single communication from Tehran to Iran’s UN embassy informing Iranian diplomats of those incidents.

During my short-lived ambassadorial position (1987-1989), I was focused on peacemaking efforts to end the Iran-Iraq war, the most prolonged and devastating war in modern history. The UN and public media records unequivocally demonstrate that in encouraging peace between my country and Iraq, I went beyond my mandate and was the very first Iranian official who publicly announced Iran’s acceptance of UNSC Resolution 598 for peace. (The New York Times reported on my work with the Security Council in the spring of 1988.) My accusers overlook these well-documented peacemaking efforts, and the fact that I risked my ambassadorial position for that purpose.

For more than three decades since, I have dedicated my life to research, teaching and writing about peace and friendship. All my scholarly and artistic works in English, Persian and Arabic focus on international and interpersonal peace and friendship.

These pursuits are where I will continue to focus my energies, in the hope of contributing to a better world.

M. Jafar Mahallati
Oct. 9, 2020

Not everyone is convinced.


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