The past month has been one of immense reckoning for the Princeton University community. Hamas' barbaric rampage against Jewish civilians on October 7 (now referred to in Israel as "Black Shabbat") has had a devastating effect on Jewish students – upon the feeling of security that fortifies both secular and observant students' identities at this irreligious institution, and upon their place within the communal tapestry that binds them to their non-Jewish peers. Incendiary slogans parroted by students and faculty – from "Globalize the Intifada from Princeton to Gaza" to "We don't want a two state, we want '48" – have shaken many Jewish students to the core, from a state of complacency to one of perpetual vigilance against hostile peers. These fears have only been compounded by the Iranian regime's menacing influence over Old Nassau, which provides sanction to the flourishing of anti-Israel, anti-American, and anti-Western sentiment on campus.
Perhaps most disheartening to Jewish students within the past weeks has been the terse response on the part of Princeton's administrators and academic department chairs – by the University president and departmental deans, who issued delayed statements that refused to single out the plight of Israeli victims during this perilous time – even as students entrust them to steer clear of false equivalences and faulty value judgments.
For years, offices and departments of the University have waded into our nation's fractious political discourse with gusto, issuing unequivocal statements on hot-button issues with little regard for the principle of institutional restraint championed by Princeton's leadership for decades. Advocacy for the "oppressed" – that is to say, a majority of non-white, historically marginalized communities – has become so encoded into the elite cultural lexicon that any significant contradiction of it will elicit forceful responses from Princeton's administrative leadership. University President Christopher Eisgruber described the Supreme Court's 2023 ruling repealing race-based affirmative action as "unwelcome and disappointing." Consider, too, Amaney Jamal, Dean of Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), who took the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse as evidence that "there are racial inequities in nearly every strand of the American fabric" and castigated him with far more zeal than any one of the rapists and butcherers responsible for Black Shabbat.
Princeton scholars have substituted institutional restraint for a fervent strain of racial identitarianism. As Abigail Anthony '23 wrote earlier this year in Compact Magazine, this reality leaves academic life awash in a "deluge of departmental anti-racism statements that inform students what can and can't be said in class."
Now, however, these same leaders invoke academic freedom with Alinsky-esque duplicity – not as an incontrovertible gold standard (as it ought to be), but as a battering ram against pro-Israel voices, as cover for their tepid responses to Hamas' genocidal actions. The language of "mutual respect" employed by Princeton administrators in the current moment, or of academic freedom itself, was nowhere in sight amid past instances of controversy, particularly when the killing of George Floyd whipped the community into a yearslong frenzy of historical revisionism and McCarthyite firings. Eisgruber and his ilk, who themselves may have little sympathy for the radical postcolonial ideology afoot on campus, have indeed given free rein to nakedly anti-American, anti-Jewish activists – hardly "truth seekers" by any reasonable measure – to anchor themselves within the Ivory Tower.
The blatant double standard is perhaps most visibly wielded by members of the school's Department of Near Eastern Studies (NES). Once chaired by the illustrious Bernard Lewis and still home to several celebrated faculty, NES today serves as a prominent venue for the Iranian regime's malign influence in American higher education. Its academics have repeatedly done the ideological bidding of the Ayatollah beneath the veil of academic freedom. Meanwhile, its scholars, several of whom maintain direct relations with the regime, have turned a blind eye to the mullahs' flagrant human rights infractions and moral turpitude.
Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student held hostage by the Iranian regime for three years, alleged in a lawsuit against the University that scholars in the NES department "overly emphasize US imperialism, condescension, and other behavior toward the Middle East, especially Iran, as being responsible for Iranian's [sic] destructive behavior." Wang's claim is not without merit: at a December 2022 campus event titled "Eyes on Iran: Protest and Liberty Under the Ayatollah," Iranian activist Mariam Memarsadeghi characterized Department Chair Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi as "very proud to call himself a Marxist revolutionary." Ghamari-Tabrizi's scholarship, according to Memarsadeghi, "is listed on the regime's think-tank website" and is "blessed" by the regime's Assembly of Experts.
The department became the center of widespread controversy in August when NES Professor Satyel Larson required students to read Jasbir Puar's The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, a book that alleges that Israeli soldiers deliberately and systematically maim Palestinian innocents for eugenic purposes.
Around this time, an event of equal if not greater significance was playing out among other University faculty. At a contemporaneous keynote speech for the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) symposium, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a researcher at Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), opined that the United States' "great power ambitions" are responsible for the Iranian regime's current aggressive posture. Mousavian's proclivity for the Iranian regime is well–documented. One high-level official recently stated that he still provides the regime active support, and his activities are currently under investigation by Congress.
It comes as little surprise then that both Ghamari-Tabrizi and Larson, as well as four other scholars associated with the Department of Near Eastern Studies, are signatories on an open letter that draws a moral equivalence between the unprovoked slaughter of Jewish civilians by Hamas, an Iranian proxy, and Israel's defensive measures against Hamas belligerents in the Gaza Strip, while also peddling the propagandistic claim that Israeli forces indiscriminately bomb Gazan hospitals. Predictably, NES held an event in late November titled "Flash Educational Panel on Palestine," whose panelists refute Hamas' rape and beheading of Jewish innocents on October 7 and deny Jews' ancestral claims to the land of Israel. At the event, panelists spoke extensively about Hamas' founding as a peaceful "charity in Gaza focused on education, social services & preaching" and its work "operat[ing] schools, orphanages, mosques, clinics, and soup kitchens," and the little time they did devote to the terrorist organization's violence was framed as "resistance" carried out "in retaliation to Israeli military or Israeli civilian attacks on Palestinians."
Perhaps more brazen and equally illustrative of the Department's postcolonial, anti-Western orientation are its scholars' avowed connections not only to figures embedded deeply within the Iranian regime but also to individuals who, in numerous cases, have borne responsibility for state-sponsored acts of terrorism abroad. Much has been written about the sordid past of Professor Mousavian, including by the Tory's own Darius Gross '24, who stressed the academic's links to the 1992 bombing of the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin, Germany, which targeted Iranian dissidents who patronized the establishment. Mousavian's recent tweets, aside from decrying Israeli retaliation against Hamas belligerents as a "New Holocaust," display contempt for Western sanctions against the Iranian regime and laud pro-Iranian rallies across the globe.
Less has been documented about NES Chair Ghamari-Tabrizi's steady acquiescence to the Iranian regime. In addition to her aforesaid panel remarks, Memarsadeghi alleged that the Department chair "boasts about the fact that he knows at least half of the hostage takers [responsible for the 1979 Iran hostage crisis]." When asked by the Daily Princetonian to respond to this accusation, Ghamari-Tabrizi did not dispute its substance, instead voicing his disagreement with "the [panel's] rationale" and adding, "Do I participate in conversations in Iran? Yes, I do... The Iranian situation is not an instance of a repressive regime that is so exceptional in the world that people rise against it. However, the Iranian people are exceptionally revolutionary subjects."
Ghamari-Tabrizi's confidence in the machinations of the regime, as with his disdain for the Iranian people's calls for liberation, is unwavering. In a December 2022 interview, Ghamari-Tabrizi boasted about the regime's dubiously popular support, arguing that Iran today enjoys a level of legitimate democratic participation on par with, if not superior to, electoral turnout in the United States.
Accordingly, he has expressed a strong predilection for the Obama administration's strategy of appeasement of the Iranian regime and a clear distaste for successive efforts to stymie Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Ghamari-Tabrizi lambasted as "idiotic" the Trump administration's choice to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. In contrast, he hailed the appointment of his current Princeton colleague Robert Malley as a "reconciliatory signal toward Iran." Malley himself is the subject of numerous controversies prior to and following the suspension of his security clearance, likely due to his appeasement of the Iranian regime.
The Department of Near Eastern Studies' hub of pro-regime activity forms a startling backdrop as turmoil unfolds across campus, Jewish students express worry for their safety, and campus publications resort to dishonest journalistic practices that do not reflect the views of all students on campus, particularly members of Princeton's Jewish community. A university dedicated to the mission of higher education – the pursuit of truth – cannot in good conscience assent to Iran's appropriation of one of its academic departments as a platform for the express and unchallenged promotion of anti-Jewish, anti-American, and anti-Western sentiment.
That this University, among America's most hallowed institutions of higher education, continues to harbor such activity is an affront to its informal credo – "In the Nation's Service and the Service of Humanity." At a time so fraught as this, when the civilized world is in search of voices of principle and good sense, Princeton appears to be in very short supply of both.