(December 29, 2020 / Jewish Journal) The University of California Merced has let one professor spread his vitriol for nearly two years and now, apparently prefers to ignore it. On Dec. 21, JWeekly revealed that Abbas Ghassemi, a professor in the Engineering Department at Merced, had a Twitter account filled with numerous anti-Semitic tweets, many of which cited age-old tropes that have been used to justify violence against Jews.
On June 14, for example, Professor Ghassemi tweeted “… reality bites!!!!!!” along with a picture purporting to depict a “Zionist brain,” with labels such as “frontal money lobe,” “Holocaust memory centre,” “compulsive liar olfactory” and “world domination lobe.” This vile picture includes a note stating, “The ‘compassion for others’ gland is not shown due to its small and underdeveloped nature.” After being asked to comment on his tweets, Ghassemi deleted his account.
Notably, this “Zionist Brain” image was an almost perfect copy of one appearing on white-supremacist and neo-Nazi websites:
Despite professor Ghassemi’s anti-Semitic incitement, his employer has thus far refused to repudiate his Jew-hatred. The administration even appears to be supporting him, essentially claiming that the repeated use of vile anti-Semitic tropes by a university professor is, in effect, “none of their business” because, as Assistant Vice Chancellor of External Relations James Chiavelli asserted, “[a]s the now-inactive Twitter account made clear, these were the opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution.”
I am not surprised by the response of the UC Merced administration. A milquetoast response by university administrations in North America and Europe to raw anti-Semitism—particularly that which does not emanate from obvious white-supremacists or neo-Nazis—is sadly par for the course. Witness, for instance, the utter failure of the University of Southern California’s administration to sanction even one person for the anti-Semitic campaign of harassment against Rose Ritch this past summer.
Nevertheless, it is long past time for “business as usual” with anti-Semitism, particularly on college campuses, where the tolerance for Jew-hatred has been incredibly high. As a proud member of the #EndJewHatred movement, I have written an open letter to the UC Merced administration, calling on them to be the change that basic morality and decency requires. Please join me in calling out this double standard and demanding zero tolerance for Jew-hatred:
An open letter
Dear UC Merced administrators, staff and professors,
If a UC Merced professor had a personal Twitter account (that expressly and clearly listed he was a UC professor), which had numerous racist tweets with tropes and claims about African Americans that appeared lifted from the KKK or from white-supremacist websites, would your response merely be that these are the “opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution?”
If you responded that passively to such raw anti-black racism from a faculty member, how do you think that would make your black students feel? Would it make them feel safe and welcome?
If a UC Merced professor tweeted horrid tropes about Muslims or Arabs, tropes that have been used by bigots to justify harassment of Muslims, would your response merely be that these are the “opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution?”
And, if you responded that benignly to such virulent anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hate, how do you think that would make your Muslim or Arab students feel? Would it make them feel safe and welcome?
Professor Ghassemi had a Twitter account that clearly identified him as a UC professor. The biography section of his Twitter profile had his name, title and affiliation as a “Professor of engineering at the University of California.” His account was full of plainly anti-Semitic claims, many employing classic medieval- and Nazi-era canards about Jews which, for centuries, were used to justify persecuting and inciting violence against Jews.
One of the many anti-Semitic tweets on professor Ghassemi’s “Israhell” account was a post from this past June, which featured an image titled “The Zionist Brain.” As can be seen by a similar image created by white supremacists, the main edit to professor Ghassemi’s tweet was replacing “Jewish” with “Zionist.” Otherwise, the hateful image tweeted by professor Ghassemi used almost all of the same historic anti-Semitic tropes.
Many of Professor Ghassemi’s other tweets regularly used well-known tropes about Jews and money as well as about Jews controlling the media, the banks and the U.S. government. In all of these tweets, he simply replaced “Jews” with “Zionists.” But since the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews identify as Zionists, meaning they support the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty and self-determination in part of their indigenous homeland, the mendacity of this “switch” is not lost on most Jews.
The Jew-hatred promoted by professor Ghassemi is about as obvious as his use of anti-Semitic tropes. Yet to date, UC Merced appears to claim that the repeated promotion of blatant anti-Semitism from one of its professors is somehow none of its business because it reflects the “opinions of a private individual.”
How do you think this meek reaction to patent Jew-hatred will make your Jewish students feel? Will it make them feel safe and welcome?
I urge UC Merced to reconsider its response to professor Ghassemi. I urge the school’s faculty, staff and administration to think about their obligation to live up to UC Merced’s mission statement, which “promotes and celebrates the diversity of all members of [the UC Merced] community.”
Does that mission statement include members of the Jewish community? If so, then UC Merced should respond to professor Ghassemi’s conduct the same way it would respond to a professor posting hateful tweets about any other group of people, let alone one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in history.
I also urge the school to put some substance behind its response. Make it clear that such conduct is unacceptable. Do not leave any doubt that UC Merced will not tolerate, let alone condone, this type of conduct. Require all faculty, staff and professors to attend anti-Semitism awareness training and adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism.
For over 10 years now, anti-Semitic hate crimes have been—on a per capita basis—the most common hate crime in the United States, and continue to increase at an alarming rate. This increase is due in no small part to the proliferation of Jew-hatred through social media by people like professor Ghassemi. But it is also due to the apathy of those in a position to take a stand and do something about it—those like the administrators at UC Merced.
As Edmund Burke wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Please don’t “do nothing” in the face of professor Ghassemi’s raw Jew-hatred and anti-Semitic incitement.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.
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