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December 30, 2020 5:17 pm
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University of California Merced Calls for Inquiry Into Professor Who Engaged in Social Media Antisemitism

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The now-deleted antisemitic Twitter account maintained by University of California Professor Abbas Ghassemi. Photo: Screenshot.

The University of California Merced chancellor and executive vice-chancellor on Tuesday called for an inquiry into a School of Engineering professor who posted antisemitic and anti-Zionist tweets for nearly two years.

Abbas Ghassemi used his Twitter account to, among other things, charge “Zionists” and Israel with controlling American society and engaging in “world domination,” and also mocked Jewish memory of the Holocaust.

The statement from Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Gregg A. Camfield said that Ghassemi’s tweets “crossed the line” set by the Board of Regents on antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and discrimination.

“The opinions presented in this Twitter account do not represent UC Merced or the University of California,” they said. “They were abhorrent and repugnant to us and to many of our colleagues and neighbors; they were harmful to our university, our students, and our years of work to build an inclusive and welcoming community.”

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“We have called upon the dean and department chair to work with the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel to conduct an inquiry into potential violations of our standards, the UC Faculty Code of Conduct or other policies of the university, to determine what consequences are appropriate,” the statement announced.

Concerns from Jewish students, the statement added, “will be addressed through the Offices of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students,” and that another office would be directed “to develop programming for the spring semester that addresses free speech, hate speech and anti-Semitism in academia and promotes ways to challenge discriminatory insinuations when and wherever they emerge within the university community.”

The statement added that university policy will be updated in order to clarify codes of conduct regarding such issues, saying that “we must not let anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry or hate toward any group take root in the UC Merced community.”

It was an about-face for the university, which had initially distanced itself from Ghassemi when his tweets were discovered.

“As the now-inactive Twitter account made clear, these were the opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution,” said James Chiavelli, assistant vice chancellor of external relations at UC Merced, in a statement last week.

Ghassemi’s Twitter antics were originally exposed last week by the J-Weekly, a Jewish news outlet serving northern California.

In one post commenting on President-elect Joe Biden’s Nov. 4 victory, Ghassemi tweeted: “Surprise, surprise!! The entire system in America is controlled by Zionist. Change of president is just a surface polish, change of veneer. Same trash different pile!”

Another post on Dec. 13 read, “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.”

Many of the 2,200 tweets posted by Ghassemi since the account was launched in July 2019 referred to Israel with the pejorative “IsraHell,” the J-Weekly reported.

One posting on June 14 included the text “… reality bites!!!!!!” along with an image of a “Zionist brain” with labels such as “frontal money lobe,” “Holocaust memory centre,” “self-pity gland” and “world domination lobe.”

Roz Rothstein, the CEO of the group StandWithUs, had called for the university to take action against Ghassemi, saying he had “posted classic antisemitism, demonstrating an alarming obsession with hatred for Jews, Israelis and Zionism, a core part of mainstream Jewish identity… The man should be disciplined.”

Responding to UC Merced’s announcement of an investigation, Rothstein said, “Good news!”

J-Weekly reported that Ghassemi has hired an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues on campus.

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