The US Department of Education acknowledged it had received a formal discrimination complaint filed against Oberlin College in Ohio, plunging the small liberal arts college into an allegedly new antisemitism scandal.
The 2019 complaint was filed by Oberlin College graduate Melissa Landa, who founded the Alliance for Israel to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting the Jewish state and hostility toward Jewish students for their pro-Israel views. “Oberlin’s unwillingness to protect its Jewish students from harassment and intimidation is reprehensible. For six years and throughout two Oberlin administrations, Jewish students and alumni who support Israel have reported to me that they were either forced into silence, coerced into anti-Israel activity, or left with no alternative but to transfer to another institution,” Landa said on Wednesday.
”The US Department of Education has a responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation of the discrimination that Jewish students at Oberlin College endure and to begin to help mitigate that discrimination by requiring the College to adopt the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism,” she added.
Landa submitted a running list of outbreaks of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents from 2014 to 2017, including student comments about the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel environment on campus.
Andrew Patinkin, class of 2019, told the The Jewish Press that “Many Oberlin students say that Israel is an oppressive state, and they “repeat a lot of misinformation and falsehoods in the name of ‘combating oppression.’ Unfortunately, this attitude towards Israel is so pervasive that even some Jewish students have taken to decrying Israel because it makes you a ‘better ally’ to a marginalized group, i.e. the Palestinians,” he said. “In the eyes of these students, if you do not actively denounce Israel and its actions, you are a lesser ally and ‘fail’ to understand the ways that oppression works, thereby making you a horrible person.”
Landa’s complaint contains detailed anti-Israel teaching material by Professor of Religion Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, who served as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations during the 1980’s. According to the complaint, in the Fall of 2016, “Oberlin students enrolled in Religion 270 with Professor Jafar Mahallati of Islamic and Peace Studies post anti-Israel blogs online that reflect the professor’s lectures and assigned readings.”
The complaint alleges that the professor’s course teaching involved claims that “Israel is a colonialist state” and “Israel is an apartheid state.” as well as his connection with “support for Hamas and terrorism.”
Mahallati’s students were required to keep online blogs to write about how BDS is a pro-peace effort. The German and Austrian parliaments passed resolutions defining BDS as an antisemitic movement that recalls the Nazi’s boycott of Jewish businesses during the 1930’s in Germany.
The Jerusalem Post revealed in February that Mahallati, in a series of anti-Israel speeches at the UN, negated the existence of the Jewish state. “The establishment of the Zionist entity was itself in violation of provisions of the United Nations Charter,” he said in 1988.
In 1989, Mahallati, who sports the moniker “Professor of Peace” at Oberlin, defended at the UN the first Palestinian Intifada – a series of violent protests against Israel – as “the heroic uprising of Palestinians.” He also appeared to advocate for a global jihad against Israel. Palestinians are setting an example for Arabs and Muslims across the world in connection with the “holy struggle against oppression and Zionism,” Mahallati said at the UN, also that year.
The ex-diplomat denied the legitimacy of Israel at the time, declaring “Palestine is an Islamic territory, an Islamic heritage, and it remains an Islamic point of identity… Its occupation by Zionist usurpers is a transgression against all Muslims of the world and its liberation is therefore a great religious obligation and commitment.”
Oberlin College’s chief of staff David Hertz told the student paper Oberlin Review in April that “the college is aware of the allegations and is taking steps to address them.” However, it has refused to answer multiple inquiries about its investigation into Mahallati and whether the findings will be published.
The most serious accusations against Mahallati involve his role as a former Iranian envoy in a mass murder in which he “committed crimes against humanity” by covering up the massacre of at least 5,000 innocent Iranian prisoners in 1988, according to an Amnesty International report titled “Blood-soaked secrets: Why Iran’s 1988 prison massacres are ongoing crimes against humanity.” The college’s April inquiry also covers Mahallati’s activity during the 1988 atrocities and his documented tirades against the persecuted Baha’i community in Iran.
The organization Oberlin Committee for Justice for Mahallati’s victims will hold a protest against him and the management of Oberlin College on November 2 from 12:00-2:00 p.m. in front of the Cox administration building. Growing outrage over the college’s alleged failure to hold Mahallati accountable for his reported “crimes against humanity” prompted the slated protest.
In 2020, the local Oberlin newspaper The Chronicle quoted Lawdan Bazargan, whose 29-year-old brother Bijan was one of the victims of the 1988 massacre. Bazargan said when her father asked for Bijan’s body from the authorities, they told him that “he was a heretic, so he can not have any mourning ceremony, and we will not reveal his grave. You cannot have any ceremony for him.”
After the victim’s family members and human rights experts published their public letter in October 2020 stating that Mahallati carried out “crimes against humanity,” the professor told the Post that “I was in New York the entire summer of 1988, focusing on peacemaking between Iran and Iraq and did not receive any briefing regarding executions. There was not a single communication from Tehran to Iran’s UN embassy informing Iranian diplomats of those incidents.”
Mahallati has refused to answer numerous media requests for comments about his alleged antisemitism and anti-Baha’i propaganda.