A University of Denver professor claimed that Israel's secret security service, Mossad, could have been behind the attack this month on author Salman Rushdie.
Nader Hashemi, director of the school's Center for Middle East Studies, said this week during a podcast that Rushdie's alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, could have been persuaded to carry out the attack by Mossad agents posing as members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reportedly was in contact with Matar prior to the near-fatal stabbing.
A "much more likely" scenario for the attack, Hashemi said, revolves around Matar's supposed communications "with someone online who claimed to be an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps supporter and lured him into attacking Salman Rushdie. And that so-called person online claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran could have been a Mossad operative."
Hashemi's comments drew widespread condemnation from Iran experts and those tracking the case, who said the professor's remarks appear aimed at deflecting blame from the Iranian regime.
"Having followed Iran's politics and the regime's soft power for many years, I can say that one of the patterns among regime sympathizers in the West is that they usually try to downplay the regime's guilt when grappling with a scandal," Navid Mohebbi, advocacy director for the National Union for Democracy in Iran, a reformist group, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Instead, they propagate the probability that the regime's foes, such as Israel, might have something to do with it to make the regime look bad. They often use dog whistles and other softer means. However, this time, it seems Mr. Hashemi slipped and said the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory part out loud."
While Hashemi initially agreed to be interviewed by the Free Beacon about his comments, he later said via email that he had "been advised" not to speak with the publication, claiming it has "promoted odious views that I strongly object to on ethical grounds."
Hashemi's comments about Mossad's supposed role in the attack were made on the Iran Podcast, hosted by Iran analyst Negar Mortazavi, who has written for publications including the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an isolationist think tank bankrolled by George Soros and Charles Koch. The Quincy Institute is a leading supporter of diplomacy with Iran and the Biden administration's efforts to provide Tehran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Israel, Hashemi indicated during the podcast interview, is opposed to the Biden administration's efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord and could have staged the attack as part of a plan to derail the negotiations.
Israel, Hashemi said, "has taken a very strong position against reviving the Iran nuclear agreement. We were in very sensitive negotiations, it looked like an agreement was imminent, and then the attack on Salman Rushdie takes place. I think that's one possible interpretation and scenario that could explain the timing of this, at this moment, during these sensitive political discussions."
The university distanced itself from the professor but has not yet taken any disciplinary action, citing free speech.
"Professor Hashemi spoke as an individual faculty member and does not speak for the university," a University of Denver spokesman told the Free Beacon. "While we wholeheartedly respect academic freedom and freedom of speech, his comments do not reflect the point of view of the university, nor are we aware of any facts that support this view."
Iran experts and pro-Israel officials told the Free Beacon that Hashemi's comments could be seen as anti-Semitic since they feed into conspiracy theories about Israel and Jews. Though the University of Denver backed away from Hashemi's remarks, university professors have been fired or disciplined for seemingly more minor offenses. Former Georgetown Law professor Ilya Shapiro, for instance, was forced to resign his position after he criticized President Joe Biden's Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Princeton University fired a distinguished professor, Joshua Katz, after he raised questions about the school's racial politics.
Iranian dissidents and advocacy groups that track anti-Israel rhetoric online said Hashemi's rhetoric is typical of those who attempt to downplay the Iranian regime's terror plots.
Alireza Nader, an Iran expert who has worked with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the attack on Rushdie was purely fueled by Iran's "decades-long incitement" and that "to claim that the Mossad was behind it is repugnant."
CNN reporter Jake Tapper also called Hashemi out on Twitter, writing, "Why are you publicly suggesting Israel had something to do with the attack on Salman Rushdie? Do you have any evidence to support such an allegation?" Hashemi said in response that he made a "rational argument."
"Hashemi's baseless allegation of Israeli involvement in the attempted assassination attempt of Salman Rushdie is ludicrous and further exposes what many of us already knew—Hashemi is a bigot reeking of anti-Semitic bias," said Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism.org. The group said it is featuring Hashemi in a series called "anti-Semite of the week."