After revelations in The Jerusalem Post about the former Iranian regime ambassador to the UN and current professor at Oberlin College, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, the Ohio-based college launched a review into the ex-envoy for antisemitism, anti-Baha'i sentiments and his alleged cover-up of crimes against humanity.
The Oberlin College student newspaper The Oberlin Review first reported on Friday about the inquiry into Mahallati. Reporter Gigi Ewing from the student-run newspaper confirmed with David Hertz, who is chief of staff for Oberlin College president Carmen Twillie Ambar, that the college is aware of the allegations and has initiated steps to pursue them.
Hertz told the paper that "we've been in touch with Prof. Mahallati," and "we're concerned whenever anyone raises allegations of this nature about a member of faculty. We want to support our faculty, but we also want to consider the allegations themselves. That is the basis on which we've been in touch with Prof. Mahallati. We are looking forward to his addressing these issues. He's taking steps to defend his reputation."
The Post reported in February that Mahallati, the professor of religion and Nancy Schrom Dye chair in Middle East and North African Studies at the college, delivered a speech when he was the Iranian regime's ambassador to the UN in 1988, stating: "The establishment of the Zionist entity was itself in violation of provisions of the United Nations Charter."
At the UN in 1989, Mahallati urged a global jihad against Israel by calling for a "holy struggle against oppression and Zionism."
The former Iranian regime ambassador defended the First Intifada as "the heroic uprising of Palestinians," at the UN in 1989.
Mahallati is known in the Oberlin community as the "professor of peace."
The Post's examination of Mahallati's UN speeches show he repeatedly went to great lengths at the UN to negate the existence of the Jewish state.
Hertz told the Review that "23% of our students identify as being Jewish" and "Jewish life is important to Oberlin, and we're proud of the quality of Jewish life on campus. When you get allegations such as this, we take it seriously."
Mahallati at the UN also lashed out at the Baha'is – the most persecuted religious minority group in the Islamic Republic, according to human rights experts.
The Oberlin Review noted in indirect speech that the UN reported "Mahallati also compared the activities of the Baha'is to acts of immorality, sexual abuse, and murder; then he questioned why, in Europe and the US, such acts were punishable by execution, while Iran was held to different standards regarding the Baha'is."
Mahallati also accused the peaceful Baha'i community of terrorism.
The UN report explicitly stated about Mahallati: "It would also be interesting to know why the European Parliament had the right to restrain the activities of the followers of certain sects and, for example, to prevent sexual abuses committed by those sects, whereas his country was required to tolerate all immoral behavior or sexual abuse, sometimes advisable according to groups such as the Baha'is, why some countries such as the United States had the right to execute murderers, while his country could not punish terrorists who burned schoolchildren and, finally, what was the definition of religion and in what way a religion differed from a sect."
When asked about Mahallati's tirades against the Baha'is, Diane Ala'i, representative to the United Nations for the Baha'i International Community at the UN office in Geneva, told the Post: "Although they were made during the early years of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are nonetheless baseless and unfounded slanders and propaganda against a group of innocent Iranians, persecuted solely because of their religious beliefs."
She added that "since then, of course, the international community has become well aware and condemned the purely prejudicial persecution of the Baha'is at the hands of the Iranian government and of their rhetoric in denying this persecution. You can find the extensive reports of the UN and other bodies... as well as an archive of the documentation of persecution of the Baha'is in Iran."
The Oberlin Review reported that "Hertz said he has reached out to representatives of the Jewish community on campus about the allegations. However, no one from the college has reached out to the Baha'i students or faculty on campus to provide support."
Both Hertz and Mahallati refused to answer multiple Post press queries. According to The Oberlin Review, Hertz contacted Prof. Cindy Chapman, head of the Jewish studies department at Oberlin, as well as Rabbi Megan Doherty, who oversees the college's Hillel program, and Chabad Rabbi Elkan at Oberlin College.
Doherty told the Post that "Oberlin Hillel is committed to ensuring Oberlin College is a welcoming and safe environment for Jewish students. We appreciate the College's investigation of Professor Mahallati, its commitment to addressing these issues and its partnership in preventing, combating and mitigating antisemitism on campus."Chapman and Elkan did not immediately respond to Post media queries. Corey Barnes, chairman of the Oberlin College religion department, refused to respond to a new Post query about The Oberlin Review article.
Mahallati wrote to the Post in October about the crimes against humanity allegations: "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."
Oberlin College has faced foot-dragging accusations from Iranian dissidents over its failure to initiate an exhaustive investigation into the most serious allegations against Mahallati. Amnesty International determined in its report titled "Blood-soaked secrets" that Mahallati played a crucial role in covering up the 1988 mass murder of Iranian political prisoners and dissidents.
Amnesty said Mahallati was complicit in crimes against humanity for his role in whitewashing the crimes of the Iranian regime during the 1988 massacre.
Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist whose 29-year-old brother, Bijan, was murdered in the 1988 massacre, told The Oberlin Review: "They [the college] are refusing to answer us.... They're keeping it under wraps – and they blocked us on Twitter. President Ambar blocked us, which is very shameful, and she even blocked all kinds of human rights lawyers and everybody who was mentioning Oberlin."
Bazargan said that Mahallati is "an ideologue," and "he still travels through Iran, he's connected to all kinds of people in the highest part of the regime."
The US government under Republican and Democrat administrations has classified the Islamic Republic of Iran as the leading international state-sponsor of terrorism.
Bazargan told the Review that Mahallati "doesn't have to actually keep his noose on the neck of my brother to be actively involved."
She added: "Just the fact that for the past 30 years, he never spoke about this atrocity, he never gave us what he knows about it, makes him an accomplice, on top of the fact that for the past 20 years his argument in the United States and in all his lectures, all the books he published, is about peace and friendship. If you have to do all of that while you were quiet for 30 years about this atrocity, why [now are you] hiding yourself from us, you don't interact with us and enter into a conversation?"
The Post can reveal that after it first reported in March about Mahallati's improper use of a UN logo and other institutional logos on his Friendship for Sustainability Center website, his NGO's website has been offline for several weeks. Mahallati faced legal action from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany if he did not delete the university's logo from his website.•