Colorado Jewish leaders call out Nader Hashemi’s remarks on Salman Rushdie stabbing

Leaders of Colorado’s Jewish community are calling on the University of Denver to denounce a professor’s comments that the Mossad — Israel’s national intelligence agency — could have been behind the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie earlier this month.

Associate Professor Nader Hashemi, director of DU’s Center for Middle East Studies, made the comments on Aug. 20 during a 30-minute interview with “The Iran Podcast.”

Hashemi told The Denver Post that he has been receiving hate mail, and threatening phone calls, from “right-wing hawkish supporters of Israel” since appearing on the podcast, and that he felt DU’s response to his remarks runs counter to academic freedom.

In the podcast interview, Hashemi wondered whether the timing of the attack on Rushdie — whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the late 1980s — suggests it was meant to derail the U.S.’s current discussions with Iran over a resumption of the nations’ 2015 nuclear deal.

He speculated that Iranian hard-liners could have been behind the stabbing, choosing Rushdie as a “soft target” after the U.S. announced this month that an Iranian operative had been charged in a plot to murder former national security adviser John Bolton in presumed retaliation for a U.S. airstrike in 2020 that killed Iran’s most powerful general.

Or, Hashemi theorized, the stabbing suspect — 24-year-old Hadi Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey — could have been in communication with someone online claiming to be a supporter of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who “lured him into attacking Salman Rushdie.”

That person talking to Matar could have been a Mossad operative, Hashemi added, since “Israel has taken a very strong position against reviving the Iran nuclear agreement.”

“I think that’s one possible interpretation and scenario that could explain the timing of this, at this moment, during these sensitive political discussions related to Iran’s nuclear program,” Hashemi said on the podcast.

On Thursday, members of six Colorado Jewish organizations, including Scott Levin of the Mountain States Anti-Defamation League, released a statement calling on DU to “condemn Professor Hashemi’s statement, which is damaging rhetoric masquerading as a legitimate opinion, and completely ungrounded in fact.”

The community leaders said they were dismayed and angered over Hashemi’s theory, which they say puts Jewish students at risk.

“Hashemi’s perverse supposition is yet another example in a long history of falsely blaming and scapegoating Jews for intervening in international affairs in manipulative and violent ways for nefarious gains,” said the group, which also included members of Hillel of Colorado, JEWISHcolorado, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rocky Mountain Rabbis and Cantors, and the Mountain States American Jewish Committee.

The university released a statement prior to Thursday’s news release from the local Jewish community.

“Professor Hashemi spoke as an individual faculty member and does not speak for the university,” DU officials said in their statement. “While we wholeheartedly respect academic freedom and freedom of speech, his comments do not reflect the point of view of the university, nor are we aware of any facts that support this view. The safety of every speaker and every student on our campus, and all campuses, is critical to our society. We condemn the stabbing of Salman Rushdie. And it goes without saying that we remain committed to assuring that the experience of our Jewish students, faculty and staff is safe, supportive, respectful and welcoming.”

In a phone interview, Hashemi said he too condemns the “heinous” attack on Rushdie, author of the 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses.” The book was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.

“My training is in political theory,” Hashemi said of his speculation on the podcast. “I get paid to theorize.”

Hashemi said he is disappointed by the university’s statement, “which suggests my presence on campus is a threat to Jewish students.” He also describes the university’s response as an “attempt to silence public debate,” a stance that is counter to academic freedom.

“This (DU’s statement) has severe consequences for my academic reputation,” Hashemi said. “It is deeply offensive, false and defamatory.”

Rushdie, 75, was stabbed multiple times in the Aug. 12 attack in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and in an eye that he is likely to lose. Matar has been charged with attempted murder.

Iran has denied involvement in the attack on Rushdie.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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