Search

StandWithUs Letter to UC Merced Regarding Antisemitic Tweets from Professor

December 24, 2020


VIA EMAIL: (chancellormunoz@ucmerced.edu; twpeterson@ucmerced.edu)


Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, Ph.D.

Chancellor

University of California, Merced

5200 North Lake Rd.

Merced, California 95343


Dr. Thomas Peterson, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus and Chair (BIOE)

University of California, Merced

School of Engineering

5200 North Lake Rd.

Merced, California 95343


RE: Investigation and Action Urged Against Professor Abbas Ghassemi for Antisemitic Statements Indicating Professional Misconduct Unbecoming a Faculty Member


Dear Chancellor Muñoz and Professor Peterson,


We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. We are deeply concerned about a series of discriminatory and antisemitic statements and images[1] posted by Abbas Ghassemi, a teaching professor in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department at the University of California, Merced. These posts on his public Twitter account promote blatant antisemitic tropes and display an alarming hatred for Jews, Israelis and Zionists.


We are dismayed that a professor with an apparently aggressive and pervasive animus toward Jews and Israelis—a protected minority on your campus—is responsible for grading the very students he appears to loathe. Furthermore, while your press statements note that Ghassemi used his private Twitter account to champion his hatred, Ghassemi identified himself on his Twitter account as a professor at UC Merced, thereby using Twitter as an extended public platform of his role at the university while espousing hatred toward Jews and Israelis.


To safeguard Jewish and Israeli students from a professor who appears simultaneously to teach and grade Jewish and Israeli students while posting antisemitic attacks against them, we urge you to investigate this matter fully, and, if any violations of university values or policy are found, to impose immediate consequences.



Background


For background on Ghassemi’s alleged online antisemitism, this summer, on June 14, 2020, Ghassemi tweeted an image titled, “The Zionist Brain,” depicting the human brain divided into sections of flagrantly antisemitic stereotypes such as, “Frontal Money Lobe,” “World Domination Lobe,” “Control,” “Land Usurpation,” and “Elitism.” Similarly, this month, on December 13, 2020, Ghassemi tweeted, “the Zionists and IsraHell interest have embedded themselves in every component of the American system, media, banking, policy, commerce…just a veneer of serving US interest and population — everyone pretends that is the case.” This is one of many examples of Ghassemi’s tweets referring to Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, as “IsraHell” alongside antisemitic conspiracy theories and classic antisemitic tropes. Ghassemi posted eight such tweets between October and December 2020. This is not an example of bigotry years in the past but a present and active hatred.


Furthermore, Ghassemi’s posts demonstrate an alarming obsession with hatred for Jews, Israelis and Zionism, a core part of mainstream Jewish identity. Many of his posts run afoul of the IHRA 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.


In terms of your administration’s response, we are concerned by comments attributed to James Chiavelli, UC Merced’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of External Relations, that minimize or condone Ghassemi’s antisemitism by dismissing it as “the opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution” and that attempt to justify it as Ghassemi’s “right to freedom of expression.” This entirely misses the point.


We believe that free speech and academic freedom are paramount constitutional values; so too is the responsibility of university leaders to use their own First Amendment rights to condemn hate and ensure a non-discriminatory academic environment for its students. The issue here is not whether Ghassemi has a constitutional right to make antisemitic comments, which of course he does. 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.

UC Merced’s mission statement emphasizes that the university “promotes and celebrates the diversity of all members of its community.” In contrast to this mission, Ghassemi used his public Twitter account to espouse hatred and bias toward Jews, Israelis, and Zionists. His statements are entirely inconsistent with the university’s mission statement and its pledge to ensure that all members of campus have a right to a bias-free education.


There is ample precedent for disciplining both tenured and non-tenured professors for professional misconduct in similar situations. Recently, Babson College fired a professor for making a political comment on his personal Facebook page suggesting that Iran choose sites in the United States to bomb. Their investigation determined that the professor’s statements did not represent the values and culture of the college—and those statements did not even involve expressions of hate and prejudice toward a protected group as in the situation at UC Merced.


At Rutgers University, tenured professor Michael Chikindas was disciplined by the administration after he posted antisemitic rants on his Facebook page. Among other disciplinary measures, Chikindas was barred from teaching required classes, was removed from his role as director of a university institute and was required to take remedial courses. At Oberlin College, the administration removed Professor Joy Karega from her professorship after she spread antisemitic conspiracy theories online.


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. 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.


Thank you for your prompt attention to this troubling matter. We look forward to hearing from you by January 8, 2021.


Sincerely,


Roz Rothstein

CEO and Co-Founder

StandWithUs


Yael Lerman

Director

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department


Carly F. Gammill

Director

StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism

[1] The original tweets and the entire Twitter account “@ProfessorGhass1” from which these hateful tweets seemingly originated have been deleted or made private, so it is no longer possible to see them. However various screenshots were obtained by media outlets and are referenced in articles cited throughout this letter.

StandWithUs

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

StandWithUs (SWU) is an international and non-partisan Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation and fights antisemitism.

Fiscal Management: for the last seven years StandWithUs has obtained the highest possible ratings from two preeminent rating agencies:

GuideStar and Charity Navigator

© 2020 by StandWithUs

  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White YouTube Icon
  • White Instagram Icon