UPDATED Jan. 5, 10 a.m.
The University of California, Merced has launched an inquiry into the conduct of Abbas Ghassemi, a teaching professor at the university’s School of Engineering who was the owner of a Twitter account with a pattern of antisemitic posts.
“The opinions presented in this Twitter account do not represent UC Merced or the University of California,” wrote Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz in a letter posted to the university’s website Tuesday evening. “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.
“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 letter stated. It was also signed by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Gregg A. Camfield.
In addition to the inquiry, the university will also develop programming for the upcoming 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 university also will be making policy updates “that make clear the rights and the responsibilities of our community members to adhere to all applicable policies and expectations against intolerance, particularly when using social media.”
“We must not let anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry or hate toward any group take root in the UC Merced community,” the letter stated.
According to an individual directly familiar with the matter, Ghassemi has retained the legal counsel of Michael J. DeNiro, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues in academia.
J. first reported on Ghassemi’s tweets on Dec. 21. The account was deactivated after J. sent an inquiry to Ghassemi. J. was able to create a complete archive of Ghassemi’s tweets before it was deactivated.
“I stand by Chancellor Munoz’s statement that the Professor’s words on Twitter are ‘abhorrent and repugnant,’” Jay Sures, a member of the UC Board of Regents, wrote in a statement to J. “I will await the outcome of the internal inquiry before making any additional comment.”
In a separate statement, UC Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez and President Michael V. Drake wrote that they “vigorously defend” the right to free speech, but “recognize in this case that the views expressed by the individual were not only narrow-minded and abhorrent, but also undercut the UC’s firm commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect for all individuals and backgrounds.”
The professor’s tweets included a photo of a “Zionist brain” with labels such as “frontal money lobe,” “Holocaust memory centre” and “world domination lobe.” That same image can be found on the website “Jew World Order,” which peddles antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Ghassemi also tweeted about the United States government, media and banking all being controlled by Zionists and Israel on 10 occasions between October and December. He also frequently referred to the State of Israel as “IsraHell.”
While it was active, Ghassemi’s Twitter account was set to public and his bio read, “Professor of engineering at the University of California.” He created the profile in 2019 and had tweeted over 2,200 times.
After the professor’s Twitter account was revealed, a number of Jewish organizations responded with concern.
“[P]rofessors who peddle in antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power and control shouldn’t be teaching. Full stop,” Holly Huffnagle, the American Jewish Committee’s U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism, tweeted on Dec. 22.
In a Dec. 24 letter addressed to UC Merced’s chancellor and the School of Engineering chair, StandWithUs, a pro-Israel nonprofit, urged the university “to investigate this matter fully, and, if any violations of university values or policy are found, to impose immediate consequences.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, included Ghassemi’s tweets in their “Top 10” list of worst antisemitic incidents of 2020.
End Jew Hatred, which describes itself as “a grassroots movement centering on Jewish liberation,” created a petition that calls for UC Merced leadership to impose “consequences” for Ghassemi, train staff about antisemitism and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. As of Jan. 5, the petition had close to 500 signatures.