Local Jewish leaders want the words of one of the University of Denver's top religious scholars to be condemned by the school after he suggested that the attack on Salman Rushdie could have been orchestrated by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.
He mentioned the option at the end of a list of other possibilities.
The school didn't condemn Nader Hashemi's words, but did, the professor believes, dismiss his opinion on the matter.
Hashemi, DU's director of Middle Eastern studies, thinks he's become a political target because he dared not to fall in line with Israeli-friendly policies.
He made the controversial comments during a national podcast interview on Aug. 20. During the half-hour discussion with Spotify's "Iran Podcast," Hashemi was asked his opinion as to who might have been behind the Aug. 12 stabbing attack on novelist Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie, 75, survived the brutal attack. He was stabbed in the neck and abdomen as he was preparing to speak at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey, was arrested.
A motive for the attack is still unclear but authorities seized a computer, books and knives from the suspect's basement apartment. Matar said that he hasn't not read Rushdie's controversial book "The Satanic Verses."
Rushdie's son, Zafar, said in an Aug. 14 Tweet that his father is still in critical condition and that though the attack was severe, "his usual feisty and defiant sense of humor remains intact."
Hashemi, who regularly lectures on the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics, listed on the podcast several possibilities as to who may have wanted to kill Rushdie, including the fact that the attacker may have been lured by social media, and the possibility that Iran may have been behind it in retaliation for a general who was assassinated.
Hashemi's final suggestion, that "a Mossad agent masquerading as an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps supporter" may have instigated the attack on Rushdie's life, is what drew the ire of Jewish leaders.
In a statement, JewishColorado wrote,"Hashemi's perverse supposition is yet another example in a long history of falsely blaming and scapegoating Jews for intervening in international affairs in manipulative and violent ways for nefarious gains."
DU immediately responded to the criticism by noting that Hashemi's views did not reflect those of the university.
"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," the University of Denver statement said.
The international political kerfuffle started when The Jerusalem Post wrote an article noting Hashemi's most inflammatory comments. By the next evening, the dean of DU's Korbel School contacted the professor by phone, expressing deep concern. On Thursday, local Jewish leaders called for DU to condemn his statements, even suggesting that Hashemi's words had put Jewish students in danger.
Hashemi scoffed at the idea. He told The Gazette, "If a nuanced and critical discussion of world politics puts students at risk, then we should immediately close down the Josef Korbel School of International Affairs at DU."
Hashemi is incensed with DU for "throwing him under the bus," calling their response defamatory.
"It raises serious questions about DU's commitment to supporting faculty of color particularly when they are deliberately targeted," he wrote in an email.
The professor says he will continue to speak out.
"I'm going to continue to speak out in defense of academic freedom, the political values that i strongly believe in and in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict I will continue to support a resolution of this crisis based on full equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians."
He plans to give a lecture on the controversy some time during the fall quarter.