Oberlin seems to be in trouble once again—for fostering antisemitism

November 5, 2023 • 10:45 am

Oberlin is once again looking bad, and for the third time (remember the Gibson’s Bakery issue and the College’s deep-sixing the women’s lacrosse coach for saying that trans women shouldn’t compete in sports with biological women?) This time they’re being investigated by the feds for a Title VI violation (this is from the New York Post, but see a similar article at Cleveland.com).

An excerpt:

One of the country’s most liberal colleges is being investigated over allegations it allowed antisemitism to breed on campus including having a professor of peace studies who has called for the elimination of Israel and the death of Salman Rushdie.

Oberlin College in Ohio could lose chunks of the millions in annual federal funding as a result of the probe, whose existence it has not yet disclosed to students, alumni and donors. Last year, the school took in more than $5 million in federal grants.

The private liberal arts college is being investigated for possible breaches of Title VI by in Ohio by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The title protects students from being harassed and discriminated against because of their religion.

Well, if you look up Title VI, you find this on a government site, which contradicts the sentence above (my emphasis). But there can’t be religious discrimination anyway; violations just don’t fall under Title VI:

Title VI does not protect students from religious discrimination. Other federal civil rights laws, however, which are enforced by other federal agencies, do prohibit religious discrimination in schools, colleges, and universities.

However, it does protect students from this kind of discrimination:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects students from race, color, and national origin discrimination. This prohibition encompasses discrimination, including harassment, based on a student’s actual or perceived: (1) shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, or (2) citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.

And, as the letter below from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights notes, the statute violated is (2): students whose shared “Jewish ancestry.” Regardless of the legal niceties, you can’t create a climate of harassment of Jewish students in a college, a climate that would impede their education. (I’m worried that it’s happening at my University.)


The probe, which was opened on September 29, was prompted by a complaint filed in 2019 by Oberlin College graduate Melissa Landa, who founded the Alliance for Israel to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel and hostility toward Jewish students at the school. Landa, who graduated from Oberlin in 1986, is president of the Oberlin Chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness, a non-profit that works to end antisemitism.

She sent the department a dossier of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents between 2014 and 2017— and four years later, it finally acted.

Here’s the letter to Landa from the feds (we don’t have one sent to Oberlin, but presumably that’s either sent or coming).

A lot of the complaint appears to center around one specific professor, who does look as if he violated academic freedom by attacking Israel repeatedly in a way that would create an anti-Jewish climate. The professor is now “on sabbatical”.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects students from race, color, and national origin discrimination. This prohibition encompasses discrimination, including harassment, based on a student’s actual or perceived: (1) shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, or (2) citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity

The dossier focuses on tenured peace studies and religion professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, who has called himself “professor of peace” but who is accused of supporting Hamas and giving students credit for writing anti-Israel blogs.

It alleges Mahallati told his classes in 2016 that “Israel is a colonialist state” and “Israel is an apartheid state.”

Mahallati, 71, has also taught at Columbia, Georgetown and Princeton. Before becoming an Oberlin professor, he was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations where he was accused of defending the fatwa, or Islamic decree, issued by Khomeini to murder novelist Salman Rushdie.

“I think all Islamic countries agree with Iran,” he told Reuters in 1989, Fox News reported. All Islamic nations and countries agree with Iran that any blasphemous statement against sacred figures should be condemned.”

. . . The Oberlin professor has also been accused of helping the Iranian government cover up the massacre of thousands of jailed political opponents in 1988, according to a February report by Amnesty International by calling the murders “misinformation” and “political propaganda” at the UN.

While working as a diplomat for Iran, he claimed it was “a religious obligation” for Muslims to “liberate” Palestine from “Zionist usurpers.”

Students boycotted Mahallati’s classes, which were canceled in the spring. A spokeswoman for Oberlin told The Post Tuesday that Mahallati was on “sabbatical” this semester.

I’d say that yes, this goes beyond what a professor should be teaching in his classes, thus violating academic freedom. Whether this itself creates a climate of bias “against students of Jewish ancestry” is up to the government to judge, and to Oberlin to agree that, if this is the case, they have to do something about it.

The penalty for violating any of the Titles of the Civil Rights Act can include withholding government funds from a school, which would be another hit for Oberlin, which had to pay $36.6 million in restitution to Gibson’s Bakery for defamation and other charges.  Worse, Oberlin’s reputation was badly smeared.

One more statement from the article.

Oberlin did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. Mahallati did not return an email seeking comment Wednesday.

Oberlin had previously fired one professor, Joy Karega, for Jew hatred, with Tablet labeling her an “unhinged anti-Semite.” That was in 2016, and Tablet has eight articles on its “Oberlin antisemitism” page.

The Jerusalem Post asserts that there is an antisemitic climate at Oberlin, but of course isolated hatred of Israel or Jews by students qualifies as free speech. It has to be a climate that is so severe that it impedes learning:

“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.

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.”

As Obelin is a paragon of wokeness, I can’t immediately reject claims of pervasive antisemitism, which, after all, is a leitmotif on such campuses. Stay tuned and see if Oberlin steps into it deeper.

24 thoughts on “Oberlin seems to be in trouble once again—for fostering antisemitism

  1. Mahallati is professor of “peace studies and religion”, how does such a woo position even exist?
    And he obviously is not a professor of peace, but of hatred and Jihad, a term not used, but clearly implied. Oberlin should get rid of him ASAP.

    1. Professor Mahallati is obviously a perfect fit for Oberlin, but his academic title needs a slight adjustment: he should be professor of Critical Peace Studies. Professor Mahallati’s attention to Salman Rushdie’s literary work also qualifies him, without a doubt, for an adjunct appointment in Oberlin’s Literature department, perhaps in the slot formerly filled by Joy Karega. [Prof. Karega, it will be recalled, had a sub-specialty in international affairs, such as the discovery that Israel was behind the 9/11/01 attacks on the US and the 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airline flight 17 over Ukraine.]

    2. I’m really not sure I have encountered a leader in DEI, or “peace studies”, who wasn’t an antisemite or some sort of fraud/grifter. Yes, I’m talking about the likes of Ibram X.

      See also: the numerous “anti-war” and “anti-racist” activists, who frequently indulge in a antisemitism/anti-Asian bigotry, and who will defend the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or China’s increasingly bellicose warmongering towards Taiwan and others. Yes, I’m talking about the likes of Stop Some Wars (UK), Code Pink, and various DSA branches.

    3. It’s not obvious that a professorship of peace studies and religion is a woo position. Peace studies have a long history, including at colleges with Quaker anti-war traditions. Conflict resolution is part of what gets studied in these departments, and given that a number of religions (including but not limited to the Quakers ) have commitments to non-violence, it is not surprising that peace studies may be linked to study of religion. Any particular case might be woo, but it could be a perfectly respectable academic department.

  2. Never mind his academic “work”, whatever that may entail — what is an American university (and apparently, a succession of American universities) thinking when it hired a former (and presumably unrepentant) ambassador for the Islamic government of Iran as a member of faculty, regardless of what he might ostensibly be “teaching”? How did that appointment ever get made?

    1. This precisely is the question. Someone this intolerantly partisan, and with such highly problematic antecedents, should never have become professor at a US university.
      Now that he is professor, however, his repeating the framing given to Israeli politics in the Westbank by both Amnesty International and B’Tzelem should be part of his academic freedom and by itself does not violate title VI (if you ask me). It would be a violation of title VI if he refused to discuss the merits of his “apartheid” assessment with Jewish or Israeli students objecting to it, or if he singled out Jewish /Israeli students in class to accuse them of the perceived wrongdoings of Israel, or if he personally harassed them in other ways.

  3. “ In the eyes of these students, if you do not actively denounce

    Israel and its actions/
    The sex binary/
    Cultural appropriation/
    The police/
    Racism in STEM/
    Western Civilization/
    The values of the Enlightenment/
    Bakeries (as needed)/

    you are a lesser ally and ‘fail’ to understand the ways that oppression works, thereby making you a horrible person.”

    As you say, a leitmotif of such campuses.

  4. >Worse, Oberlin’s reputation was badly smeared.

    No kidding.

    I would suggest “tarnished” instead of “smeared”. Tarnish is a natural process inherent to the properties of the underlying metal. Tarnish can be removed with diligent elbow grease but there is some inevitable loss of the the underlying material. Silver sulphide does not regenerate to native silver except through smelting. Oberlin are you listening? “Smearing” is something underhanded done to an innocent party by a malefactor, not the case here. Oberlin has brought all its damage upon itself through its own actions.

    I can imagine with schadenfreude the mood in the office of Oberlin’s president on the arrival in the morning mail of a letter bearing the return address of the Office of Civil Rights.

  5. Oberlin is in the crosshairs, thanks to its behavior in the Gibson Bakery and lacrosse coach cases. Apparently, there is even more rot to clear out. Keep going. Lawsuits can change Oberlin’s behavior in a way that appeals to rationalism or liberal values cannot.

  6. This professor has horrible ideas. But there seems to be no allegations of misconduct in any classes (no, calling Israel “colonialist” or “apartheid” is not a punishable academic crime). It’s extraordinarily dangerous to say that the federal government could find a private college in violation of the law if it refuses to fire a professor for making extramural comments offensive to some identity group. This could leave any professor vulnerable to dismissal on command of the government if their views are deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, or antisemitic. Colleges should not be investigated for protecting academic freedom, even of faculty with hateful ideas.

    1. If the OCR investigation finds that Oberlin is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act the penalty will be a change in the amount of money the Federal Government, tax payer money if you will, gives to Oberlin each year. That seems fair to me. Or do you think Title VI of the Civil Rights Act is unjust law? Do you think it is wrong for the OCR to investigate complaints like this one? If not the OCR, who? Oberlin?

      Granted that any institution and or process designed to hold others accountable is at risk of making errors, being corrupted, etc., no matter how well designed or intentioned, by what means do you think it would be fair to hold institutions like Oberlin accountable for Civil Rights Violations?

      1. Free speech is not discrimination. Colleges that allow free speech are not violating Title VI and should not be investigated for it, let alone punished by the government. And Oberlin should not investigate anyone for expressing controversial ideas, including bigoted beliefs. All colleges should adopt the University of Chicago standards for discrimination/harassment: “Expression occurring in an academic, educational or research context is considered a special case and is broadly protected by academic freedom. Such expression will not constitute harassment unless (in addition to satisfying the above definition) it is targeted at a specific person or persons, is abusive, and serves no bona fide academic purpose.”

        1. You have no idea whether or not there have been Title VI violations at Oberlin. The OCR investigation has not yet occurred let alone released their findings. Surely you can’t really believe that the few articles on this issue provide all the evidence you need to support your claim?

          Or are you saying that universities that receive federal funds should not be held accountable for Title VI violations? That does seem to be what you are saying, though you are being sort of slippery with, “Colleges that allow free speech are not violating Title VI and should not be investigated for it, let alone punished by the government.”

          Or are you making a claim, that somehow you know that no Title VI violations have occurred at Oberlin with such assuredness that the normal procedures to investigate such complaints should be blocked? On the basis of your assuredness of your untested claim you would deny victims of Title VI violations the means our government has provided to seek relief.

          1. Reportedly, this investigation is of the complaint made 4 years ago. If this was real discrimination, why didn’t the Trump OCR investigate it? All of the incidents described in news reports about the complaint are regarding protected speech. If a professor criticizes BLM and someone complains, should the government investigate and punish this free speech? Should all of us remain silent about an infringement of free speech by this government investigation because we cannot “know” if some unknown antisemitic discrimination could magically be discovered?

    2. Fair point.
      What rankles is that a college which has no trouble condemning “hate speech” is so incredibly selective.

  7. Let’s not forget that they also refused to return millions of dollars in art proven to be stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust to the rightful family that had been asking since 2006, until forced by court order earlier this year. Meanwhile, the willingly returned Native American art without question .

    EDIT: Does anyone have an update on their insurance situation regarding the Gibson’s Bakery case?

    1. Thanks for the reminder, Carbon. No surprise which direction Oberlin thought that their virtue signalling should take.

  8. What exactly is taught in this primitive indoctrination center? What are its academic credentials, the impact factors of faculty? Two decades ago in my country, a university was closed for less, and its students were transfered to similar programs in other universities.

  9. I feel sorry for the students of Oberlin. Either the trustees or whatever adults are still left at that institution do a massive administrative enima and clear out the filth that is running the place, or this University will be litigated out of existence.

  10. ______

    “I think all Islamic countries agree with Iran,” he told Reuters in 1989, Fox News reported. All Islamic nations and countries agree with Iran that any blasphemous statement against sacred figures should be condemned.”

    Yeah, quite a stretch to call this a “defense” of the fatwa. It’s more of an observation, and one which could just as easily have been expressed by, say, Sam Harris.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *