The Middle East Forum (MEF) is at the forefront of the fight to expose the Iranian regime's influence in the U.S., particularly in America's universities. A congressional inquiry was launched as a result of MEF's investigation into continued ties to the Iranian regime by former Islamic Republic of Iran diplomat, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a Princeton University academic. MEF and its allies in the Iranian expat community also played key roles in exposing the malign influence of Oberlin College professor Mohammed Jafar Mahallati, the former Iranian ambassador to the UN.
The December 12 roundtable webinar (video) examined Oberlin's recent decision to place Mahallati on indefinite leave. The roundtable featured: Cliff Smith, MEF's Washington Project director; Benjamin Baird, MEF Action director; Susannah Johnston, investigative reporter for MEF's Focus on Western Islamism (FWI); Benjamin Weinthal, an MEF Milstein Writing Fellow; and Lawdan Bazargan, former political prisoner and human rights activist with the Alliance Against the Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists (AAIRIA).
The following briefly summarizes their comments; the full transcript of their remarks follows below:
Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution resulted in the arrest and detention of thousands of Iranians held by the mullahs without due process. Bazargan's teenage brother, Bijan, arrested in 1982 for his involvement in a leftist party, was one of five thousand political prisoners executed by the regime in 1988.
A 2018 Amnesty International report into the massacre listed Mahallati (p. 70) among those who covered up the atrocity. In 2020, upon discovering that Oberlin employed Mahallati as a professor, American and Iranian human rights activists demanding his dismissal were ignored. In the past three years, MEF and AAIRIA conducted a media and social pressure campaign to oust Mahallati from Oberlin as a suspected Islamic regime operative exploiting his influential position to advance Iran's hostile intentions toward the U.S.
Oberlin continued to close ranks, despite Mahallati's alleged crimes against humanity. MEF exposed further revelations about his role at the UN, including his calls for global jihad against Israel and genocide against Iran's Baha'i, and his endorsement of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. An MEF article on Mahallati's antisemitism at Oberlin spurred an investigation by the Department of Education (DoE) and an MEF exposé uncovered a 1997 sexual harassment lawsuit against Mahallati at Columbia University that was hidden for decades. In an attempt to avoid the resulting lawsuit, documents revealed that the Iranian UN mission tried to claim diplomatic immunity for Mahallati retroactively — long after the case was brought to trial.
Coming on the heels of last year's congressional inquiry into Oberlin and Mahallati, a university graduate's recent lawsuit with the DoE citing Mahallati's support for Hamas preceded the college's decision to formally and indefinitely suspend Mahallati.
Cliff Smith: Hello, Cliff Smith here. I am the Washington Project director of the Middle East Forum. Welcome to our webinar and podcast series. Thanks for joining us. Today's roundtable event is about Professor Jafar Mahallati of Oberlin College, a former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations who is accused by many, including Amnesty International, of covering up for mass murder and the wider issue of Iranian influence on higher education in America.
Last week, we learned something very important, and that is after literally years of trying, Professor Mahallati was placed on indefinite leave at Oberlin. This seemingly small event, in many ways, is a watershed moment in the fight against Iranian regime influence in the US, particularly US universities, and the Middle East Forum has been at the forefront of this fight for years and has played a major role in this, as have a number of our allies in the Iranian expat community.
So that is what we're going to be talking about today. Just some info, we have five people on this panel, myself included. So we've got a lot to discuss and a lot of people with thoughts. This will be a 45-minute webinar rather than our usual 30. We'll reserve the last 20 for questions. So feel free to start typing questions in the Q&A box as you think of them, and we'll get to them when we can. In the meantime, let me introduce my panelists.
First, let me introduce Benjamin Baird. He is a director of Middle East Forum Action. Second is Susannah Johnston, an investigative reporter with Focus on Western Islamism, a project of the Middle East Forum. Third is Benjamin Weinthal. He is the Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a regular contributor to Fox News Digital. Fifth is Lawdan Bazargan, a former political prisoner, human rights activist, and a member of the Alliance Against the Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists or AAIRIA. All involved here played a role in Mahallati's suspension.
Let's start with Lawdan. I know that you tragically lost your brother in the 1988 massacre in Iran and that you yourself were a political prisoner at one point. Can you discuss this and also discuss how you became aware of Mahallati as a professor and working on getting him ousted?
Lawdan Bazargan: Yes. Hello, and thank you for having me. After the 1979 Revolution, actually the revolution was for freedom, justice, accountability, freedom of political prisoners, democracy. But unfortunately, the mullahs, the Islamists were able to grab everything or grab the power by killing everybody, arresting them, putting them in prison, and showing the iron fist. Tons of people were put in prison, killed, or were forced to leave Iran.
My brother, Bijan Bazargan, was a student at London, that he came back to Iran to rebuild his country. While he was in London, he had done a lot of activities for the leftist party that he believed in. So, in 1982, unfortunately, he was arrested. After two years of uncertainty, he was given a 10-year sentence that he had passed six and a half years, but unfortunately was executed. This is my brother.
This is my cousin, [inaudible 00:03:22]. He was 17 years old when he was arrested in 1981. 12 days later he was executed, and they showed us the bullets they killed him with in order to show us his grave. My brother never received a grave. They never told us where he is, and they told my father that, "Your son was an infidel, and infidels don't have graves." So my parents died without knowing where he's buried.
In 2020, after reading the report of Amnesty International of the 30th anniversary of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners that in there 5,000 political prisoners suddenly were executed, including my brother, we realized that in chapter six in the list of people who were involved in this atrocity, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati's name is in there as the ambassador of the Islamic regime for the United Nations. We Googled him and realized that he's teaching at Oberlin College.
So, we organized, wrote a letter by Mr. Kaveh Shahrooz, our lawyer, who also lost an uncle in that massacre. 50 family members of the executed during 1980s signed a letter, plus 600 more people from all walks of life, political activists, human rights activists, and American and Iranians. We demanded Mahallati be fired. Unfortunately, the college ignored us.
Of course, the first semester in the spring of 2021, they didn't let him teach. But the next two semesters he taught, but then they put him on leave again. But they never interacted with us, agreed to talk to us. We organized different protests all around. I want to thank especially Mr. Benjamin Weinthal, who from the day one that we issued our letter, he was on the news. He's the only reporter that asked the college to answer and tell us what they think about our letter on the first day.
Since then, he has stayed on the story and helped us to expose that Mahallati and the college as anti-Semitic and showed all the documents of the UN that he spoke against Baha'is, against Jewish people, against Israel, and also, he had defended the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. So, all of this later on, of course, I want to also thank Ben Baird and Susannah Johnston and Mr. Cliff Smith for getting involved in the campaign and helping us to expose this man as the two-faced person that he actually is and helped us get him suspended forever.
Cliff Smith: Let me ask you one other question. You mentioned how the campaign got started. Obviously, his role as UN ambassador and covering up a mass atrocity is one thing. Do you believe he presented a danger in the US and what kind of danger?
Lawdan Bazargan: Of course, he's a dangerous man. He's an ideologue that believes Shia Islam should be exported all over the world. Since the start of the revolution, he has done that. His father was an ayatollah, clergy, and he had become clergy in the year 2000. He has a mosque in Iran, and when he goes to Iran, he's wearing that clothing. In the US, he hangs out with the suits, but in Iran, he wears actually the clothes of them and the teachers at the mosques.
He writes books that they're all about peace and prosperity, but we all know that actually Islam was spread by the sword, not by peace and prosperity. He also defends Hamas. He also hates Israel, hates Jewish people. He knows very well that there is no freedom of religion in Iran, and he lies. He also defended the fatwa against Salman Rushdie as freedom of speech in a country where people get shot and killed, even children, for speaking up. He never ever spoke against the Islamic regime, and that's shameful.
Cliff Smith: Let me say one thing before I get to another panelist. It took a lot of work to get Mahallati suspended, and it wasn't just one factor, it was a whole ton of factors. We can't be for sure, at least at this point, why Oberlin ousted him. They've been pretty tight-lipped about why. They've given very little information. However, it seems likely that it's the sheer weight of all the different things that have happened that ousted him, and so a lot of people played a role in that.
I'm going to talk to each one about the different parts that they played, and so you can get a more complete picture. Susannah, you were the one who discovered not Mahallati's former regime connections, but current regime connections as shown by his own statements. You want to discuss what you found and why it was important?
Susannah Johnston: Sure. I think that that's an important point, that there's certainly evidence that looks like Mahallati could be a current regime operative. Throughout the years, he has, at times when certainly it's served his own interests, and, Lawdan, please chip in if I'm off base here, but that he has, throughout the years, maintained ties pretty clearly. For one thing, when he first came to the US, he got a job at Columbia, and he got that job right after Columbia had received money from the Alavi Foundation.
At the time, Mahallati's brother was head of the Alavi Foundation. The Alavi Foundation, as you know, has since been prosecuted by the US government as a front for the regime. I mean, you could make an argument there he's just using his regime ties to get a job here. Maybe that's all it was, but maybe it's something more than that. Can you imagine a job not having some kind of political influence if the regime orchestrated your position at a school? Is there not some kind of political tie still there? I think it's a question we should ask.
Later on, but much more recently last summer, it was actually Hamid Charkhkar who has also been working on getting Mahallati removed from Oberlin. He's worked a lot with Lawdan. He brought to our attention that Mahallati was on the board of a prominent journal in Iran, [inaudible 00:09:20]. This journal had other regime operatives on the board with it, but they praised Hezbollah as a regional ally that was really important.
Some other things that Mahallati has done, he wrote an article where he praised ... I mean he was saying that he was important to the regime for spreading Shia Islam, so just as Lawdan was just saying. I think it was in 2018, his name was smeared, and he was put on a list of basically traitors to the regime. He wrote a letter to the regime saying, "Hey, look, I am really important in the West. I'm working at the school as an academic. I'm spreading Shia Islam for the regime." We've documented that, so if anybody wants to read that, you can click on one of our articles and read more about that.
But he's made it pretty clear that he's not just some guy that not only covered up a massacre for the regime and there's plenty of evidence about that, but he has also gone on to say, "Hey, I'm still doing your work." That's horrifying that he would still be a professor in the US.
Cliff Smith: The fact that he wrote a letter to the regime openly discussing his usefulness for the regime is a fact that was cited in a congressional letter, which launched a congressional investigation into Mahallati. I had a hand in discussing that with Congress at the time, as did others at the Middle East Forum. You're a former congressional staffer. Do you want to speak to how you think Congress looks at facts like that and this wider problem?
Susannah Johnston: Sure. I think it's very significant. I think that foreign influence on college campuses is a very big deal. China has certainly gotten a lot of attention, not on our purview within this conversation. But it's not just China who's doing it, Iran is doing it. Mahallati is just one person who is involved in this.
I think that anytime actual evidence can be, even something that might seem really small like someone's name being on the board of a journal, that's something that congressional staff, it would be very useful for them to know. So, if you have information and you're watching this, let us know because Congress said they can take all of those facts and do things that it's not in our power to do anything.
Cliff Smith: Let's go to Benjamin Weinthal. Benjamin, you have been at the forefront of calling out Mahallati for anti-Semitism among other things. Do you want to discuss how you got started on that?
Benjamin Weinthal: I was following the tweets at the time in October of 2020 from Kaveh, who's a lawyer for the campaign, AAIRIA to oust Mahallati. I knew him from his work against the Islamic Republic. He's a Canadian-based attorney. He's very prominent. I thought this was just a sensational story in the sense that I had never experienced a high-level regime official who was being accused of crimes against humanity according to an Amnesty international report.
I knew of Oberlin College because my sister attended Oberlin, and I knew a lot of people from my high school attended Oberlin. I thought this story had a lot of potential to attract readers and serve the public interest, and that's when I wrote about the story initially based on the tweets from Kaveh outlining what the campaign was about. And then Lawdan and I got in touch. Lawdan went a few months later. I'm trying to remember exactly the chronology. You're on mute, but I think it was a few months later.
Lawdan really heightened my awareness and educated me about the 1998 ... which I had reported on before. But Lawdan is really the expert on this and knows just ... I mean she could just write dissertations about the 1998 massacre, and she's written extensively about it. So that helped inform my journalism. And then she turned out to be this, as Kaveh said the other day on Twitter, a force of nature. I think that's the best way to describe Lawdan's work in terms of mounting this pressure point campaign to oust Mahallati over the last three years.
We continued to advance a news story through the research of AAIRIA, through Lawdan's research, through Iranian Americans across the United States sending me information about Mahallati as part of this campaign and who were doing just outstanding research. As a journalist, I wouldn't have been able to find all these different aspects of the story, including Mahallati's tirades against Baha'is. He laid really the genocidal campaign to purge Baha'is from Iran at the UN when he was ambassador between 1987 and 1989 and his calls for a global jihad against Israel at the UN and his calls for the dissolution of the Jewish state.
So again, this material just continued to come, including the Salman Rushdie revelations that Mahallati endorsed Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie I believe in 1988, if I'm not mistaken. It just continued to bounce from news story to news story about his work at the UN and his academic role at Oberlin.
Cliff Smith: Let me ask you a question about that. As you know, all this reporting on his alleged anti-Semitism has seemingly spurred an investigation by the Department of Education. We have a letter to the effect of that it was investigating Oberlin of anti-Semitism due, in part, to Mahallati. How big of a role do you think this played in his ouster? Does anybody have an opinion on that?
Benjamin Weinthal: I've discussed this with many of the Iranian Americans on the committee with Benjamin Baird and others, and my sense is based on previous reporting that it was probably a cumulative effect of all the different news stories that were coming out. Clearly, Mahallati's reputation was profoundly damaged, and he was isolated in Oberlin after Lawdan turned the Mahallati story into an international story. Everyone seemed to know that this was someone who covered up the mass murder of 5,000 Iranian political prisoners in 1988. So, he was turned into a pariah. Oberlin students boycotted his classes.
And then of course, as you mentioned, Cliff, this anti-Semitism investigation came out. It was reported in November that the Department of Education is investigating Mahallati and the college for creating a hostile environment or harassing Jewish students and promoting his pro-Hamas views on the campus. But I'd be curious to hear what the other folks on the panel think about that very-
Cliff Smith: We'll get to that. One last thing, as we already pointed out, on top of the media campaign and social pressure campaign, on top of a congressional investigation and a Department of Education investigation, Ben, you brought up perhaps the final issue about Mahallati, and that is while he was at Columbia, he was sued for sexual harassment and that was covered up for decades. Do you want to talk about how you discovered that and what you discovered?
Benjamin Baird: I think it's really important to start with how we came to know about the fact that Mahallati was involved in a sex-for-grades scandal. This information was not easy to come by, by any means. In the process of conducting a background check into Mahallati using open sources, we saw references to a 1997 court case where Mahallati and Columbia University were each listed as co-defendants, but we couldn't see the actual case files because this was in the 1990s before the mass digitization of court records.
So, the files actually had to be retrieved from an abandoned mineshaft in Kansas, 60 feet underground, where it was stored with other forgotten and inactive government records. So, I just want to point out that it's highly unlikely that these files and these allegations would have ever seen the light of day after the court case ended, if not for the actions of our team and cooperation with AAIRIA.
So, once we delved into the case files, we were absolutely shocked at what we discovered. Mahallati was involved in a 16-month affair with a graduate student who was 11 years younger than him. He allegedly provided the student with academic benefits, inflated grades in exchange for sexual favors. Mahallati first met the plaintiff in 1993 at Columbia University. He took classes at Columbia at this time, but he also taught one class per semester in the School of International Studies.
The plaintiff stated in the files that shortly after they met, he invited her to dinner at his home. It was at this dinner that he first started with his advances, and she rebuffed them. He was quite aggressive, but she said she wasn't interested in a relationship. It was later, after she left his home, that he called and left several voice messages on her answering machine, and it was here that he proposed a quid pro quo sex-for-grades relationship with this graduate student, which was also a research assistant.
By the way, we've spoken behind the scenes with the plaintiff in this case, and we believe that it was these voice recordings where Mahallati basically incriminated himself. The plaintiff held onto them and presented them, and we believe that's what moved Columbia University to settle with her. But it's important to note, throughout the relationship, Mahallati was known to be abusive to the student. He would not only be abusive to her, but to women in general.
He constantly warned her against discussing news of their affair publicly. When the student finally broke off the relationship with Mahallati and reported it to Columbia authorities, Mahallati responded with retribution. He started circulating rumors that she had plagiarized materials and was involved in other academic fraud, which, of course, defamed her and was probably very difficult to handle.
It's also important to note that when she brought the allegations to Columbia University, they never notified her about the ongoing investigation, what, if any, penalties would be imposed on Mahallati or anything like that. In fact, in their answer to the amended complaint, Columbia University actually blames the victim and says that she's culpable for her own conduct here.
Anyone with knowledge of these unequal relationships in a work or education setting can tell you that she's certainly not culpable. She could have feared retribution if she didn't do what this professor asked of her. That's just how such relationships work generally. So eventually when she saw Columbia wasn't taking any action, she brought the lawsuit. Mahallati did not want to show up to court. They tried to serve him on many occasions, and he would not show up.
It wasn't until they were going to do a summary judgment and just force him to pay without a trial that he finally started showing up and then to try to claim diplomatic immunity, which we can discuss if you'd like.
Cliff Smith: I was going to say that was the last question I had before we go to questions. Everybody, if they have questions, please type it into the Q&A box, and we'll get to them. But before we do that, I was going to ask, you found a very interesting document that perhaps has relevance even beyond sexual harassment in the sexual harassment lawsuit claim. Do you want to discuss what you found?
Benjamin Baird: In order to get out of this lawsuit, there was a letter from Iran's permanent mission at the United Nations claiming that Mahallati was actually a special advisor to Iran and that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The letter was actually dated December 1st and it said that he started as a special advisor on December 8th. However, this is long after his relationship with the student, and it was even after the case was brought to trial. So, he was trying to claim diplomatic immunity retroactively, it appears.
I'm not sure if that's something that would legally work, but it really shows the lengths to which the regime would go to protect one of its own. Mahallati's faced accusations for a long time of being part of the regime, and it turns out that he was working as a professor and potentially moonlighting as a regime proxy. Even if that's not true, the alternative would be that the regime lied about him working for the regime so that he didn't have to face judgment in a US court.
Cliff Smith: Well, either way, I think what that really says is that he is a regime agent no matter which way you slice that. Either he was working for the regime officially or he wasn't, and they invented some sort of position just so he claimed diplomatic immunity, which, of course, shows that he was still working for the regime either way.
Anyway, we'll get to questions. We have a couple. We would like more. Please type them into the Q&A box. People are asking us, how did Mahallati end up at Oberlin? Lawdan?
Lawdan Bazargan: I would like to answer that question. Mahallati, when he left his post as a Iran ambassador to the United Nations, he stayed in US and he started getting involved creating mosques, religious centers. He realized that since Iran has a 2,500-year history, he can use our culture in a way to gather Iranians around with pretending that they are a cultural institution. They created several cultural institutions, and they also joined forces with a woman, Olga Davidson. She's a professor in Harvard that studied Persia, Iran and Persian language, and she has written several books.
So, she helped him a lot, one of the useful idiots that helped this regime and their expansion in the United States of America. Mahallati thanked her in his so-called PhD that is not even a real PhD, what do you call it, research that he wrote. So together, they would talk about Shahnameh, our poets, our culture, our New Year, Nowruz, and create programs for that. At some point, they bought a building and recreated it just like Iran with tapestry and fabrics and things like that and would invite people.
The two of them were behind inviting Khatami, Iran's president, to come and speak in the US universities and around. There's a picture of Olga Davidson and Khatami sitting on a sofa next to each other very cozy. Olga was connected to a lot of rich Americans that she was inviting to these parties to get them to give money to them. We contacted her. Of course, she never answered us.
So, using all of those connections, then these nonprofit organizations that were supposed to bring cultural understanding between countries, they got involved and they tried to bring Iranian students to the United States to do this exchange. The people that worked in that nonprofit happened to be Oberlin's former students, two of them. So, they reached out to Oberlin's president, and Oberlin's president became the first US college president that traveled to Iran after 20-some years.
Unfortunately, Nancy Dye, of course, she fell in love with our culture, but she was tricked by the so-called reformists of Iran and thought this connection will really help, and that's why he hired Mahallati. Mahallati was one of the people that was involved in this connection of exchange of student, which never materialized. But it landed Mahallati a job at Oberlin because one of these nonprofit organizations gave presidential award to Oberlin, $100,000, and the president put pressure on one of the professors at the college to hire Mahallati, which he was telling them, all of them are saying that Mahallati is not qualified.
He hasn't written anything. He's not qualified. So finally, because the president was paying for it, they accepted to hire him for a year. But after that, they let him go and they hired another professor for the position. So, the Oberlin president created a special position for him that God knows who's paying for it. That's another thing that we couldn't get to the bottom of it. Since it's a private college, we can't have information about their fundings.
Cliff Smith: Let's go to the next question. Eric Selkov asks, "What do you think Mahallati will do next? And do you think he'll go back to Iran?" Anybody?
Benjamin Baird: Well, I can just jump in with a quick answer here. I think he's already in Iran, in Shiraz. He has roots in Shiraz. His father was a respected imam, part of the clergy, and I think he's in Iran right now. Whether or not he'll stay there remains to be seen, but I think it's safe to say that he will not continue a career in education.
Cliff Smith: At least not in the States, no.
Lawdan Bazargan: I would like to add that all these years he had been living in Iran for six months of the year. He has a mosque there. He has schools there. He just in June of 2023, he had invited all the clergy that are pro Khamenei, pro-IRGC, and they have issued several statements against United States, against killing of Qasem Soleimani, against President Trump and all the others.
So, he invited them to his mosque, and there's a picture of him bowing toward the one that has a higher post in the regime. So, it's really, really shameful that such a man gets to live in the United States of America.
Cliff Smith: Another question from, I may butcher this name, Sharha Jaselsum is asking, "Will his suspension have any relevance to other teachers at American universities who are shills for other Islamist groups?" I will mention one thing on this myself, and that is that it was a big step for Congress to investigate Mahallati about a year or so ago. I think Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and Congressman Jim Banks, who started that, deserve a lot of credit.
This is not the only one. Just a handful of weeks ago, 12 members of the Education Workforce Committee, including Virginia Foxx and Congressman Banks, along with 10 others, sent a letter to Princeton to ask basically for an accounting of Professor Mousavian. Professor Mousavian is also a former ambassador for Iran, among many other things. He is basically a lifelong regime flack.
We've written about him as well, and we are continuing to press on that as well. He is quite clearly, I would argue, still a regime agent. So yeah, we are definitely hoping so. But if anybody else wants to jump in and discuss some of the wider implications of that, I'm glad to hear.
Lawdan Bazargan: I'd like to add that this brought so much hope. It's been Iranians. I received thousands of messages from Iran that they're saying, "You made our day. You made our mouth sweeten," which is an expression in Farsi, and they're all very happy. So, at the time that we felt defeated after the Woman, Life, Freedom Revolution, that we were all hoping that it will topple the regime.
Unfortunately, with the help of United States of America releasing to them tons of money and with Europe not putting IRGC under the terrorist list and things like that, unfortunately, the fire of the revolution has slowed down a little. But this brought a lot of hope. Now we see that in Canada, people are trying to get all the members out. They gave already to the Canadian government the list of 70 people. AAIRIA, our group, is also going after Mousavian in Princeton University, and we are going to go after the other ones.
This put everybody on notice. I can tell you. I'm just here at Oslo, Norway, participated in the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and I saw Shirin Ebadi, the other recipient of Nobel Prize Iranian, that she also wrote a letter to Oberlin. So she thanked us for our efforts. I saw [inaudible 00:32:38], that her daughter is an Oberlin graduate. She thanked us for everything she did, which I was happy that she encouraged her daughter to help us with writing that op-Ed. I saw all kind of lawyers. I saw the Amnesty International representatives. They all thanked us for using their report to get to where we are.
So, I'm saying this just created so much buzz, so much hope, and I'm sure we can do a lot of great things with the help of everybody. I thank again, MEF, Benjamin Weinthal, Ben Baird, Susannah, and you, Cliff, for all the time and efforts you put. Ben took us to meet all the lawmakers in Ohio. He put the time and effort, and all of these helps. You asked earlier, what was it at the end?
Oberlin had to hire a PR responsible for this because they realized after you are saying you have a professor that is involved in the crime against humanity, he's involved in anti-Semitism, he's involved in hating Baha'is, he's involved in supporting a fatwa, they didn't have a choice. And then of course, the last nail in their coffin was Melissa Landa, Oberlin College former graduate, that she also filed this claim with the education department about his support of Hamas that really brought them to their knees.
They decided even though for the last year he hadn't taught at all, they decided to make it formal and formally announce that he's not going to teach anymore.
Cliff Smith: Gigi asks, "Isn't Oberlin a nonprofit organization? It should be possible to get information about its school donations from foreign entities." I will actually mention that because that's something I've worked on a little bit. Just last week, Congress passed something called the DETERRENT Act, which we have advocated for quite some time. It would require significantly more disclosures and put real teeth behind enforcing disclosures of universities.
However, currently it is actually surprising just how little they really have to disclose. Right now, in theory, universities have to disclose, "oh, we got this much from a foreign entity," and that's it. They don't have to say what the money's for. They don't have to say who's controlling it. They don't have to say much of anything really. That's only ones that are explicitly foreign. Even that, the law really isn't enforced. The only thing the law can currently do is force someone to basically pay the government's lawyer's fees if they successfully sue them.
So right now, it's really difficult. It might be in theory possible to get information on their foreign donations, but it's very difficult in practice and it's more or less voluntary at this point. So, we're very happy that the bill passed the house. We hope it'll pass the Senate, be signed by the president, so on and so forth. But that's where we are on that now, so we don't really know that much.
It's also worth mentioning that the Alavi Foundation, which we mentioned before, is actually a US foundation. It was found to be a regime entity, but for years, it was not considered such. So, they would have had no legal reason to do that. This is a big web. It's very difficult. So anyway, that's where we're going on that. I wanted to say one other thing. JR Pride asks, "Are you aware of any similar situations involving universities in Canada?"
Lawdan Bazargan: Yes, as I mentioned, there are several of them, Canadians. Kaveh Shahrooz is actually one of the lawyers that is working on it because Kaveh resides in Canada. There are a lot of Iranians in Canada that they're united. They started a nonprofit, and they're going after them.
Benjamin Baird: Maybe Benny can talk about McGill, some of his work there.
Cliff Smith: Benjamin Weinthal?
Benjamin Weinthal: Just quickly, Mahallati purportedly completed his PhD at McGill University in Montreal. I received information. I actually did some research, and we determined that McGill had a partnership with Tehran University. McGill has an Islamic Institute, and that partnership was eventually ended, according to McGill. They wouldn't tell me when. But I did write an article in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper, about the partnership. You can find it online.
And then Lawdan also gave me information about the Alavi Foundation funding McGill. We weren't able to find a crystal-clear connection between Mahallati and the funding that Iran's regime sent to McGill, but it certainly raises red flags that he would suddenly show up at McGill and earn his PhD. There are question marks, again, over his academic credentials. More research needs to be done into his academic works because there's a sense that some of his writing is not and his scholarship is not on solid ground.
Cliff Smith: An anonymous questioner wants to ask, "After Oberlin took disciplinary action against Mahallati, how likely is it that he will face further repercussions for his involvement in crimes against humanity?" Susannah, you want to speak to that?
Susannah Johnston: Yes, I do. I think that some of what we talked about the congressional stuff ties put on administrative leave from Oberlin, but the fight here is far from over. He needs to stand trial publicly for the crimes that he's been accused of in the hope that we can have real justice here, not just him basically being fired from Oberlin.
For that matter, we don't know exactly why he was fired or, I should say, removed, put on administrative leave by Oberlin. And along those lines, we need to make sure he's not reinstated at Oberlin. Of course, AAIRIA's working really hard on that. But if I were still on the Hill, which I'm not, I have nothing to do with Congress now. But if I were still there, I would make sure Congress would keep asking questions.
They should follow up on their investigation that they started and keep pressuring like, "Hey, this is not resolved here." Oberlin still owes answers to Congress. My understanding, Cliff, correct me if I'm wrong, Oberlin never actually responded to Congress. Do you know if they did?
Cliff Smith: I have not heard their response. So I know that there is a lot to be done in this space, and I do know, through conversations I've had with different congressional actors, that this is something on their radar, that there's still questions to be answered by Congress.
Susannah Johnston: I know Lawdan wants to add some remarks to this, I'm sure, about making sure that Mahallati is ultimately tried for the crimes that he's been accused of.
Lawdan Bazargan: I'd like to add that this is not enough whatsoever. We want a memorial at Oberlin for our fallen loved ones, and we also want a course to be taught in Oberlin College about the atrocities of the Islamic regime in Iran and around the Middle East. The Islamic regime of Iran is the father of the Taliban and the grandfather of ISIS and the reason of all the turmoil in the Middle East, and there must be responsible professors that teach this so that students understand what kind of brutal regime, gender apartheid regime we have been dealing with.
Also, we have other lawyers that have helped us complain to the immigration department because we are sure that he lied on his immigration applications to become a US citizen. We hope all of this becomes fruitful, and he sees some kind of justice.
Cliff Smith: Let me ask another question here. Don Sable asks, "While this does not exactly pertain to Oberlin, do any of the panelists have thoughts to share about former Biden administration Iranian negotiator, Robert Malley, and the folks he brought into government who are being accused of Iranian support agents and so on and so forth?" I will mention one thing is that I don't think it's an accident that Robert Malley, the second he got ousted from government for accused malfeasance on classified material, that he ended up at Princeton.
Princeton is the same place that houses Mousavian, the other ambassador we were mentioning that is now getting congressional attention thanks to Congresswoman Foxx and Banks and 10 others. There's a real problem that goes beyond just one man or just one university. Does anybody want to speak to Malley and his malfeasance and how this suit fits into the education and foreign influence department?
Lawdan Bazargan: I'd like to add that Mahallati's sister and Mahallati's brother-in-law, another clergy, also teach at Princeton and the brother-in-law also in Columbia. I'd also like to add that Malley's closeness with the Islamic regime and his hate for Israel and stuff is totally aligned, these so-called leftists that they are anti-imperialists and anti-America. They all align their wishes with each other. That's why he could be so close to the members of the Islamic regime.
I'm sure if we dig more, we can find a lot of problems about Malley, but we are going after Ariane Tabatabai and other people in his team that were in the White House, and they were helping. We hope that the Biden administration listens to our cries and get rid of them.
Cliff Smith: Indeed. Anyone else want to add on to that? Let's see. There's a whole bunch of questions popping up now. Here's one good question, another by Gigi. "Does anyone think that it's unusual, perhaps, that a university did not inquire as to his sexual harassment charges like that wasn't discovered before?" Ben, do you have thoughts on that?
Benjamin Baird: It should have come up in a background check. Maybe not all the case files. As I discussed earlier, they would have had to have ordered those. But they could have seen very clearly that he was involved in something as a co-defendant with Columbia University. It identifies him both as a professor and as an individual is how the charges or the lawsuit was placed against him. So they should have found it.
Oberlin College, when asked, claimed that they had no prior knowledge of his involvement in a sexual harassment claim, and they stated that if they had known that, they would have never hired him. I don't know if that's true. There were a news report and interview in early October where it was mentioned, his sexual harassment case. But when we sent a press inquiry, they claimed to have no knowledge of it.
That's not an excuse. It speaks to the wider problem of vetting procedures in colleges and at Oberlin College, for sure, and tenure policies for that matter. There needs to be reform. We need to take a closer look and not just for criminal or legal aspects, but also for foreign connections.
Susannah Johnston: Well, along those lines, you're talking about just the foreign connections. It seems like that raises a lot of questions about how Mahallati got that job in the first place, which Lawdan's talked about earlier. It's like, did they not do a background check on him? Did he just pull some strings, or someone pulled some strings for him, and he got that job? Those are questions that we just don't have answers to right now.
Benjamin Weinthal: I think it's an interesting question because Lawdan mentioned the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, Iranian jurist who accused Oberlin of whitewashing its investigation on Mahallati. So after all the disclosures came out about Mahallati covering up the mass murder of 5,000 Iranians and his genocidal anti-Semitism and his genocidal rhetoric against the Baha'is, Oberlin conducted a so-called independent investigation.
They hired a lawyer who's from their board of trustees member, so there was inherent conflict of interest. Their investigation whitewashed Mahallati's crimes, and they posted a fact sheet on their website. The fact sheet was scrubbed from the website, we believe last week. And Oberlin has never dealt with the fact that they defended, in many ways, Mahallati's conduct over the last 30+ years, and they've never apologized for their defense, or as Ebadi said, and others, their whitewashing of his crimes against humanity.
Those are big questions that need to be addressed. Oberlin has gone into bunker mode, and they just simply are vehemently opposed to any semblance of self-reflection or engaging the Iranian American community about these various serious questions. I find it unbelievable to this day that they won't meet with Lawdan and the other Iranian Americans who have been persecuted by this regime. But that's President Ambar of Oberlin.
It would be interesting if Congress hauls her in for an investigation and as why Oberlin has tolerated anti-Semitism for so many years and tolerated a genocidal maniac, according to critics, namely Mohammed Jafar Mahallati.
Cliff Smith: And with that, I believe we will have to go. We're already over time. Sorry to all those that did not get their questions answered. It was a very interesting investigation and a difficult topic. We appreciate all your attention, and we thank you all for your questions. Please come back for more webinar events later this week and into the end of the year. Thank you very much. Goodbye.