The pro-Israel educational organization StandWithUs sent a letter to UC Merced on December 24 calling on it to take action against Professor Abbas Ghassemi over his use of “antisemitic statements and images on social media.”
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein, Saidoff Legal Department Director Yael Lerman and Center for Combating Antisemitism Carly Gammill wrote to UC Merced Chancellor Dr. Juan Sanchez Munoz and Professor Emeritus Dr. Thomas Peterson that Ghassemi has issued a number of since-deleted tweets that appear to be anti-Semitic.
The tweets, which were posted from October to December 2020, included an image of “The Zionist Brain” featuring a Jewish Star of David and a “Holocaust Memory Centre.” A separate tweet asserted that “the Zionists and IsraHell interest have embedded themselves in every component of the American system, media, banking, policy.”
“Ghassemi’s posts demonstrate an alarming obsession with hatred for Jews, Israelis and Zionism, a core part of mainstream Jewish identity,” Rothstein, Gammill and Munoz wrote. “Many of his posts run afoul of the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism adopted by the U.S. State Department and the Department of Education, which is used in Title VI investigations into campus antisemitism.”
They added that they were “concerned” that a spokesperson for the university told the Jewish News of Northern California (the J) that Ghassemi’s tweets “were the opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution” and the university “is committed to ‘uphold the right to freedom of expression and encourage a culture of dialogue, understanding and civility in all interactions.’”
“The issue here is not whether Ghassemi has a constitutional right to make antisemitic comments, which of course he does,” Rothstein, Lerman and Gammill wrote. “The issue is that Ghassemi has been making these comments publicly on Twitter, where he identifies himself as a UC Merced professor, and he is responsible for educating the very people he appears to loathe and about whom he attributes racist conspiracy theories. Ghassemi’s discriminatory statements are egregious for a professor presumably responsible for teaching and grading a protected minority on campus — Jewish and Israeli students.”
Rothstein, Lerman and Gammill pointed to recent examples at Rutgers University, Oberlin College and Babson College, in which the schools disciplined professors over anti-Semitic social media posts.
“Like these professors, Ghassemi should face an investigation and repercussions for his antisemitic rhetoric, just as we presume you would investigate similar allegations of statements from faculty that targeted students based on race, gender, or sexual identity,” they wrote. “Instead of the message already conveyed by your administration protecting an allegedly antisemitic professor and downplaying his expressions of hate, we urge you to send a clear message to your community that there is no place for discrimination or bigotry at UC Merced, and that all members of your community are protected equally.”
Rothstein also said in a statement, “Professor Ghassemi used Twitter as an extended public platform at the university to promulgate hatred toward Jews and Israelis through classic antisemitism. This not a simple matter of free speech. In addition to promoting a hateful environment on campus, this professor is responsible for the grades and academic success of students he appears to hate. University administrators have an ethical, if not legal obligation, to take all measures necessary to protect their students from any discrimination.”
Other Jewish groups have also condemned Ghassemi’s tweets. Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk told the J that the tweets are “textbook examples of crude, antisemitic canards; mendacious allegations about Jewish power and control, attempts to dehumanize and demonize Jewish people, denial of Jewish peoplehood and the right to self-determination, Holocaust trivialization, insinuations about Jewish greed, and more.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center decried in a tweet that the university spokesperson’s comments to the J essentially defended Ghassemi’s “‘free (hate) speech rights. Such rules only applies when Jews are attacked – any other protected minority targeted would get this bigot fired.”
The Stop Antisemitism.org also labeled Ghassemi as their “Antisemite of the Week” in a December 27, stating that Ghassemi “was caught tweeting about Jews dominating the world, demonizing Jews [and] devaluing the Holocaust. Why is this antisemitic bigot allowed to continue teaching?”
Chiavelli told the Journal that the university has nothing new to add at this time. Ghassemi did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.