Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress accuse one of the country’s most prominent Middle Eastern academic groups of promoting anti-Semitism after the organization defended a university professor who accused Israel’s Mossad of organizing the recent attack on author Salman Rushdie.
Three Republican lawmakers have written a letter to the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) demanding that the organization explain why it is defending Nader Hashemi, a professor at the University of Denver. According to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Washington Beacon.
The letter appears to be the opening salvo in an attempt by leaders of the Republican Review Committee (RSC) – the largest conservative congressional caucus – to investigate instances of pro-Iran bias on US college campuses. . RSC President Jim Banks (R., Ind.) told the Free tag earlier this month that Hashemi’s “anti-Semitic and anti-American conspiracy theories are now rampant in academia,” underscoring the need for congressional intervention.
The banks, along with representatives Claudia Tenney (R., NY) and Doug Lamborn (R., Colorado), are demanding that MESA, which represents more than 2,800 college professors at 50 institutions across the country, explain why it gives credence to the baseless theory that Israel was involved in the Rushdie attack. The survey, they write, is being conducted as part of the RSC’s effort to provide “monitoring of the anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism that have become endemic in higher education.”
Rushdie was nearly killed last month after an assailant allegedly in contact with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shoved the author during a public appearance. The Corps, a paramilitary organization, has been trying for decades to kill Rushdie. Hashemi, during a podcast interview last month, said the striker could have spoken “with someone online who claimed to be an IRGC supporter and instigated him to attack Salman Rushdie. And that so- saying anyone online claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran might have been a Mossad agent.”
Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy groups said Hashemi’s comments had no factual basis. The University of Denver, in a statement to the Free tag at the time defended Hashemi’s right to free speech but distanced himself from his remarks, saying that “his comments do not reflect the views of the university, and we are not aware of any facts that support this point of view”.
Following this statement, MESA lashed out at the university, saying “this poorly worded statement can plausibly be construed as prejudicial to Professor Hashemi’s personal and academic reputation, and as a violation of his academic freedom.” Hashemi, the group added, “engaged in legitimate speculation about the politics surrounding the attempted assassination of Salman Rushdie.”
Republican lawmakers say MESA incorporates conspiracy theories about Israel and Jews.
“Hashemi’s baseless statement bears the hallmark of anti-Semitism, that the Jewish state, and therefore the Jews, are at the center of a grand plot to wreak havoc in the world, in this case, to sabotage ongoing negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal,” the lawmakers wrote. “MESA’s statement essentially asks the University of Denver to condone such an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory under the umbrella of ‘academic freedom’. Yet what is ‘academic’ about the broadcast conspiracy theories that promote hatred and prejudice?
“Is it common practice for MESA and its members,” lawmakers ask, “to condone and encourage conspiracy theories, and promote hatred and prejudice toward a particular country or people on college campuses? Americans?”
MESA, in addition to its defense of Hashemi, has faced separate charges of anti-Semitism after supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is waging economic warfare against the Jewish state. The university group’s endorsement of the BDS movement “caused nearly a fifth of former members of your university to stop affiliating with your organization for fear of being associated with an anti-Semitic movement,” the lawmakers note.
AJ Caschetta, a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a member of the Middle East Forum’s Campus Watch group, said MESA displays its anti-Israel bias. “MESA and Hashemi share an instinct to blame Israel for all problems in the Middle East,” Cschetta said.
Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism.org, one of the groups lobbying the University of Denver to take disciplinary action against Hashemi, said campuses across the country are failing to adequately address anti-Israeli prejudices.
“We are sick of empty words from school administrators,” she said. “Convictions are meaningless without tangible action, and we encourage students to pursue legal avenues if their colleges and universities fail to protect them.”
Republican lawmakers are asking for answers to two central questions.
First, they ask, “How is Hashemi’s propagating a baseless anti-Semitic plot about the attack on Salman Rushdie as being ‘much more likely’ than other possibilities ‘legitimate speculation?’ »? Second, they ask, “As an organization allegedly dedicated to the ‘public understanding’ of the Middle East, what evidence can MESA or Hashemi provide in any way to support its claim?”
Tenney, who is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free tag that academic groups like MESA promote hatred of Jews under the guise of academic freedom.
“This blatant anti-Semitism is beneath good faith academic dialogue and instead leads to the spread of hateful conspiracy theories on behalf of the Iranian regime,” she said. “MESA should respond immediately with any information it may claim to have in support of Professor Hashemi’s ridiculous and disturbing lies.”