Greedy. Power-hungry. Global puppet masters.
These are the words used to describe the Jewish people by detractors wanting to dehumanize them. These descriptors are harmful, not only for their hateful meaning but also for the way they jeopardize the safety and wellbeing of the world Jewish community. Now imagine if a professor, an educator at a publicly-funded university right here in the United States, was using these despicable antisemitic tropes as a punchline on his social media. Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine. Professor Abbas Ghassemi of the University of California at Merced has been exposed after publishing a string of aggressively antisemitic tweets — drawing attention to the school’s overarching antisemitic campus culture. In the name of the inclusive environment UC Merced claims to foster, the school must reject Ghassemi’s thinking and take the time to properly educate their other faculty members on the dangers of perpetuating antisemitism.
Of the tweets, one was particularly offensive. It included a propagandistic image entitled “the Zionist brain,” and featured mocking sections labeled “Holocaust memory centre” and “compulsive lying olfactory.” Other labels played on the most despicable stereotypes of a Jewish person. They read, “frontal money lobe,” “world domination lobe,” “land usurpation,” and “control,” among others. The image also noted that “the ‘compassion for others’ gland is not shown due to its small and underdeveloped nature.” In several other tweets, Ghassemi repeatedly referred to Israel as “IsraHell”. This is someone tasked with modeling the minds of impressionable college students and yet he felt empowered to demonize and denigrate an entire race of people with ugly untruths. And he did it under the banner of the university he works for.
Ghassemi clearly identified himself as a professor at UC Merced on his social media channels. If his behavior is allowed to stand without ramifications, the university would be conceding that it is perfectly okay for him to promote discriminatory attitudes on campus. Ghassemi’s clear and public expression of his hatred for Jews, Israel, and the Zionist identity is even more problematic when we consider that the UC Merced community, including his own students and colleagues, contains Jews with a proud heritage and ancestral ties to Israel.
While the school did launch an inquiry into the incident after outcry from Jewish organizations, this alone is not enough. Serious action must be taken to ensure that blatant antisemitism does not find a permanent home on campus. The fact that this professor has not yet faced any repercussions demonstrates to Jewish community that their safety and their right to cultural expression is up for debate. This is a matter of civil rights. We cannot allow Professor Ghassemi to instigate further antisemitism on the UC Merced campus or continue to jeopardize not only the safety, but also the rights of the Jewish community to openly practice their culture.
The University of California at Merced now has an opportunity and obligation to take action to protect its Jewish community. As Chancellor Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz stated in the letter written in response to the incident, “we must not let anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry or hate toward any group take root in the UC Merced community.” If the administration actually values the diversity and inclusion that it claims to, they need to demonstrate it. Deliberate actions must be taken to combat the racist culture and prioritize student safety. It falls to the students and faculty to hold UC Merced accountable, demand meaningful antisemitism training on campus, and drive out hate such as that which was demonstrated by Ghassemi.