The Utah-based Civic Friendship organization deleted a notice on its website and on Twitter for an event with Iran's former UN ambassador after The Jerusalem Post sent a series of press queries to the organizers and participants of the webinar.The former Iranian regime envoy, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, who is currently an Oberlin College religious studies professor, has become a flashpoint for intense controversy across the US, because Amnesty International reported he committed crimes against humanity in Iran.
As Iranian ambassador to the UN in 1988, Mahallati covered up the mass murder of thousands of innocent Iranian political prisoners, according to Amnesty.
"Mr. [Bahman] Baktiari must answer to us why he misused the name of Mr. Baskerville, the 'American Lafayette of Iran' and the 'American martyr of the Iranian constitutional movement,' to invite Mahallati, who is accused of crimes against humanity?" Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist, said to the Post. "How can Baktiari justify misusing the name of a martyr to invite someone accused of mass murder?"
The Iranian regime murdered Bazargan's brother, Bijan Bazargan, during the 1988 prison massacre.Baktiari, who is executive director of the Utah-based Baskerville Institute, is listed as a moderator of the event with Mahallati.
The University of Utah dismissed Baktiari in 2011 for a "pattern of plagiarism," according to The Salt Lake City Tribune. He worked at the university as a political scientist. The Post reached out to Baktiari, the webinar panelists and Baskerville advisory board about whether Baktiari misrepresented Mahallati's background.
One of the missions of the Baskerville Institute is to "initiate bridge-building projects that facilitate friendship and peace between the Iranian and American peoples."
When asked by the Post if Baskerville is undercutting its mission by hosting Mahallati, who also has been accused of genocidal antisemitism and denigrating the persecuted Iranian Baha'i community, he refused to answer.
When asked about the event with Mahallati, Alex Shapiro, executive director for the United Jewish Federation of Utah, told the Post that "I certainly do not and will not support any person or any agency that supports the elimination or delegitimization of Israel."
Bazargan told the Post that "More than 5,000 political prisoners, who had prison sentences and had spent several years behind bars, were suddenly hanged, based on a Fatwa (Islamic Decree) by Ruhollah Khomeini, [the former] Islamic regime's supreme leader – and now Mahallati wants to talk about 'religious diplomacy.' As a diplomat in IRI's (Islamic Republic of Iran) Foreign Ministry and the United Nations, he was busy for years covering up IRI's atrocities and denied their arbitrary arrests, long sentences without the due process of the law, and mass executions."
The webinar with Mahallati is titled: "Religious diplomacy in the Middle East. The Pope, The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, and the Grand Ayatollah of Najaf." The event is slated to take place on May 18 and May 19.After the Post sent press queries to the advisory board members of the Baskerville Institute, the website deleted the advisory board's emails and names and converted the page into a "password protected" section.
One advisory board member, Janet Afary, a professor of religious studies and director of the Iranian Studies Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Post via email: "I have almost no interaction with the Baskerville Institute on these issues. I am a historian of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911) and Howard Baskerville was an American who fought in that revolution on the side of the constitutionalists and was killed during a war. My area of specialization is strictly this period. If they have an event that involves the Cons Rev (Constitutional Revolution), then I may be asked to comment on the quality of the papers."
Other advisory board members including Miles Hansen, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah; former banker Chris Redgrave; and Ben Kolendar, director of Salt Lake City's Department of Economic Development, declined to respond to multiple press queries.Bazargan said the Islamic Republic of Iran "is trying to soften its image and cover its bloody hand. People like Mahallati, with their message of friendship and religious diplomacy, are the propaganda machine of the Islamic regime to cover up the mass murders and the atrocities against Iranians. People like Mahallati are dangerous for US National Security and should not be allowed to work in academia."
The United States government under both Republican and Democrat administrations has classified the Islamic Republic of Iran as the world's top international state-sponsor of terrorism.
Jessica Emami an Iranian-American political analyst, told the Post: "I am elated that Baskerville Institute has removed evidence of its association with Mr. Mahallati, a known war criminal according to evidence provided by Amnesty International. Mr. Mahallati's actions make a travesty of everything Howard Baskerville stood and died for."
She added that "this disassociation is an important first step in discovering why Oberlin College still maintains him as a tenured professor and fails to respond to the media and his victims' families."
In an October email to the Post, Mahallati denied that he covered up the mass murder. He has declined to answer questions about his reported calls to eliminate Israel and his demonization of the Baha'i.Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post: "Has Mr. Mahallati apologized for his antisemitic and anti-Baha'i sentiments made while he was a shill for the Iranian regime at the United Nations? Does he still support the genocide-seeking Holocaust denying [Iranian] regime? Organizers and Oberlin College should also check Amnesty International's report that Mahallati committed crimes against humanity by covering up the mass murder of at least 5,000 Iranian political prisoners during 1988 at the UN."
Cooper added that "the Civic Friendship organization has the right and obligation to know if this professor still maintains these hatreds. If so, then he should have no place in a religion-peace dialogue, nor should he be teaching 'peace' to students at Oberlin College."Bazargan asked why does the US education system give "him a platform to speak and spread lies and misinformation? We demand answers from Oberlin College."
One of the participants on the webinar, Daniel Peterson, Professor of Near Eastern History at Brigham Young University, wrote the Post that "I have received your inquiry" but did not answer any of the questions about Mahallati. Peterson later scrubbed a section he wrote about Mahallati on his blog. Andrew Skinner, another panelist and a religion professor at Brigham Young University, declined to respond to the Post.
Rabbi Alan Brill, who teaches at Seton Hall University and is scheduled to appear on the webinar, also declined to respond. Brill blocked this reporter on Twitter for sending him a press query. Rev. John Bryson Chane along with Tehran University theology Prof. Mahmood Vaezi, who are listed on the webinar notice, did not answer Post media queries either.The logos of a number of organizations as ostensible sponsors appeared on the webinar with Mahallati. The Utah Muslim Civic League is listed but told the Post that "we did not give consent for our logo or name to be used. We asked them to remove us and they immediately did."Utah Valley University is listed on the notice but declined to respond to the Post.The Post contacted Charles Randall Paul, who is president for the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, and a moderator for the webinar with Mahallati. He did not answer.
The John A. Widtsoe Foundation, which was also listed on the webinar notice, declined to answer a Post query.
Oberlin College announced in early May that it plans to investigate the allegations against Mahallati.
Gregg Levine, chairman of the Community Relations Committee for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, told the Post in the community's first public comment about Mahallati: "The Jewish Federation of Cleveland appreciates Oberlin College taking immediate action to investigate the serious allegations against Prof. Mahallati. If these allegations prove to be accurate, we are hopeful that the college will move just as quickly to remove this individual from its faculty."
He added: "We stand with our partners at Hillel in ensuring there's no place on any college campus in northeast Ohio for anyone who embraces hatred against any community or encourages war against a country."