Protest At Oberlin College Over Professor Accused Of Helping Cover Up Iranian Mass Executions While U.N. Ambassador
Oberlin College Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati’s history still haunts him.
Protestors gathered on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, over Oberlin College Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, accused of helping cover up the 1988 Iranian government murder of several thousand political prisoners while Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
I’m an Oberlin College graduate. I was one of the protesters, having traveled from Maryland. Others came from California, New Mexico, Michigan, Georgia, Maryland, many cities in Ohio, and from Jerusalem. The cross section of demonstrators ranged from Iranian-Americans to Americans from many other backgrounds to Israelis, with religious backgrounds encompassing Muslims, Jews, Christians, Baha’is and atheists.
As the protest began at noon, more than 75 people congregated along the sidewalks and on the grass underneath Oberlin’s Memorial Arch, which faces the Cox Administration Building on the Oberlin campus. Banners showing the faces of 650 of Mahallati’s victims and eight Iranian flags lined the curved archway, and 150 photographs of murdered innocents stood in frames on the grass.
Lawdan Bazargan speaks at the podium
Oberlin College had refused to grant us permission to use the grassy area, but we ignored their prohibition and they did not engage us. Had they done so, our intention was to sit down on the grass and refuse to move.
Speakers appeared in person at the podium and on a screen via Zoom, and included family members of those murdered under Mahallati’s watch, former political prisoners, human rights lawyers, and Oberlin alumni.The crowd also witnessed a short re-enactment of the brutality of the sentencing of prisoners during the prison massacre of 1988.
When Kaveh Shahrooz, a Canadian attorney representing the protesters, spoke via Zoom, he referred to the college as “a guilty party” and “a college that protects evil men,” as reported by Jason Hawk in the Chronicle Telegram.
Mahallati denies the accusations, but according to Amnesty International in its report, “Blood Soaked Secrets,” Mahallati was aware of the mass executions of political prisoners in Iran in 1988 when he was Iran’s U.N. Ambassador, and lied about them in order to cover them up. Bazargan lost her brother, Bijan, in the prison massacre and is leading the charge to demand that Mahallati is brought to justice.
As Bazargan shared with me, “Even before accepting the position at the United Nations, Mahallati had been involved in creating a brutal system of oppression and violence that extended back to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Mahallati knew the bloody past of the Islamic Regime and still accepted the position of ambassador to the U.N. He is an accomplice in extrajudicial arrest, torture, and execution of our loved ones and must face punishment for it. Unfortunately the international law and the US law lack the necessary rules to bring people like Mahallati to justice so as a minimum he must be fired from Oberlin College. Mass murderers and people accused of crimes against humanity should not have access to students and young minds to corrupt them.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Courts and its apparatus arbitrarily and without due process of the law, arrested, tortured, and executed people, including political prisoners, human rights activists, environmental activists, workers who demand better wages, retired communities who ask for pension increase, students who ask for better and cheaper education and others. Mahallati was involved in creating the regime, having worked in the foreign ministry for years in high positions, before accepting the position as ambassador to the United Nations, knowing that the UN had passed several resolutions condemning the Islamic Regime for human rights violations and had appointed special representative to monitor the human rights violations by the regime.During his time at the United Nations, Mahallati also delegitimized Israel, when he declared to the U.N. in 1988: “The adoption, by the General Assembly in 1947, of resolution 181 (II) on the partition of the land of Palestine and the establishment of the Zionist entity was itself in violation of provisions of the United Nations Charter, as well as of the rules of international law.” And at the U.N. in 1989, Mahallati praised the first Palestinian intifada — violence against innocent Israelis that began in December 1987 and that continued for five years — as “the heroic uprising of Palestinians.”
And, at Oberlin, Mahallati assigns anti-Israel readings to his students, and, in the name of “peace studies,” forces them to describe the campaign to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel as a peaceful endeavor to improve Palestinian rights. In fact, the BDS campaign seeks to destroy Israel and has been characterized as antisemitic by the Austrian and German parliaments. Mahallati also teaches his students that Israel is an “apartheid,” “colonialist” state and downplays Hamas and terrorism against Israeli civilians.
Tom Sigel and the author, Melissa Landa
Mahallati’s long history of is of grave concern to Tom Sigel, an Oberlin alumnus and the first Jewish Trustee for Homer Township, located just thirty minutes away from Oberlin. While attending the protest, Sigel told me that “Mahallati should not be in any institution [while] inculcating hatred and bigotry.”Despite Mahallati’s alleged antisemitism and human rights atrocities, however, neither Oberlin campus rabbi attended the protest, sent a representative, or seemed to have organized Jewish students to attend.
Rabbi Lauren Werber from Temple B’nai Abraham in nearby Elyria, Ohio, joined the protest against Mahallati with several members of her congregation.
Bazargan and other family members first contacted Oberlin College to demand an investigation of Mahallati in October 2020 and to request a dialogue with the Oberlin administration. To date, the administration has refused to speak with them.
Following the protest, the Oberlin administration prepared a fact sheet for the media, which I obtained, and which referred to their internal investigation of Mahallati’s actions. It read, in part:
“The inquiry did not find proof to corroborate the allegations that Professor Mahallati knew of the atrocities at the time he was asked about them during his tenure at the United Nations”;
“The review could not identify a pattern of anti-Semitic behavior or ongoing calls for the destruction of Israel”;
“His record at Oberlin is exemplary, and includes no instances of anti-Semitic behavior.”
The fact sheet also included statements from Mahallati, conveying his belief in religious freedom and academic liberties, and his opposition to human rights abuses. Mahallati did not mention human rights abuses in Iran or the 1988 massacre of 5,000 innocent political prisoners.
Oberlin alumnus Mark Rosenthal told me, “There was a time when I was immensely proud of having graduated from Oberlin College, because of its unique history of ethical activism dating back to its founding in the 1830s. But Oberlin’s whitewash report on Mahallati, their continued employment of Mahallati, and the administration’s threats to silence the victims attending this protest by disallowing them from displaying photos of their murdered loved ones, now leave me embarrassed to be an Oberlin alumnus. Oberlin College, under its current administration, is an institution that has truly lost its way.”
Fatemeh Pishdadian, whose parents were murdered by the Iranian regime when she was eight months old, and who lives in Cleveland said, “I find it beyond outrageous that someone with our loved ones’ blood on his hands should be welcome in American academic circles without being held accountable. His presence in Oberlin College is a disgrace to universal values of human rights and insult to the families of his victims. I urge Oberlin’s administration to stand on the right side of history by immediately terminating his employment and taking steps to prevent such grave mistakes in the future.”
Melissa Landa, PhD is the director of Alliance for Israel, a non profit based in Maryland that addresses anti Israel forms of antisemitism in educational contexts.DONATE
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