Two U.S. Representatives have opened a Congressional inquiry into an Oberlin College professor after an FWI investigation revealed his ties to Iran and Hezbollah. In a September 28 letter, U.S. Representatives Jim Banks (R-IN) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked the school to recount the process that led to its hiring of religion professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati despite his alleged efforts to help cover up a mass-killing that took place in Iranian prisons during his tenure as a UN Ambassador in the late 1980s. The lawmakers also asked the school to reveal if it has obtained any funding from Iranian sources.
“[W]e are disturbed by Mr. Mahallati’s well-documented human rights abuses while part of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and his continued support of Iran’s tyrannical regime while under your employment,” the letter states. “Even more troubling is Oberlin College’s apparent decision to whitewash Mr. Mahallati’s actions when these concerns were made know to you, raising serious questions about the ideals of Oberlin college (sic) and its willingness to allow foreign interference on its campuses.”
The Congressional letter to Oberlin came in response to FWI revealing in May and June that Mahallati has not only a questionable past, but recent ties to the Iranian regime.
In May, FWI reported on Mahallati’s presence on the board of an Iranian-based journal, Sepehr-e-Siasat, which recently praised the Iranian-backed terror group, Hezbollah, as a promoter of Shiite identity and an integral part of confronting the “Zionist regime.” The journal’s board also boasts individuals connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, another designated terror group. When FWI reported Mahallati’s membership on the board, Mahallati’s name disappeared from the journal’s website within a day of FWI revealing it.
In June, FWI further disclosed Mahallati’s Iranian regime connections. In 2018, Mahallati sent a letter in Persian to the Iranian parliament presenting himself as a loyal servant of the regime. He described his usefulness to the government as a teacher in the West, calling it his “national and religious duty” to promote Iranian Shi-ism.
The Iranian-born Mahallati came to the U.S. in the early ’90s after serving as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN). While Mahallati represented Iran before the UN, the Iranian regime reportedly massacred thousands of political dissidents in secret in what prominent human rights groups documented as “crimes against humanity.” The regime and those involved were never held accountable, and Mahallati seamlessly slipped into his new role as a professor in the U.S.
Since the ’90s Mahallati has taught at various U.S. colleges, finally landing at Oberlin where he has taught since 2007. In 2018 an Amnesty International report outlined Mahallati’s efforts to deny and then coverup the massacre during his tenure at the UN. However, the report prompted Iranian dissidents, many of whom lost family members in the massacre, to call for Mahallati’s removal from Oberlin College. In 2020 they sent a letter to Oberlin’s administration demanding his removal and have held multiple protests against his presence on campus.
Despite Mahallati’s denial of complicity in the 1980s massacre, FWI in May and June showed his ongoing relationship with the Iranian regime and his role in their goal to Islamize the West. These reports, coupled with Mahallati’s past role within the regime, led U.S. House Reps. Banks and Foxx to send a letter to Oberlin College calling for an investigation into Mahallati’s hiring and the school’s financing of his position.
“The United States has a clear interest in refusing to coddle human rights violators, and Congress has repeatedly raised concerns about domestic political interference from hostile foreign regimes on our college campuses,” the letter states. “It is utterly perplexing that Oberlin so obstinately harbors Mr. Mahallati, an individual with such a disgraceful past and of questionable current allegiance.”
Oberlin College has not responded to a request for comment from FWI.
Susannah Johnston is FWI’s investigative reporter.