Republicans Eye Pro-Iran Propaganda in US Colleges After Prof Claims Israel Behind Rushdie Attack

University of Denver's Nader Hashemi said Mossad lured attacker

A protest in support of attacked author Salman Rushdie / Getty Images
August 26, 2022

The controversy surrounding a University of Denver professor who claimed that Israel's secret security service, Mossad, could have been behind the attack on author Salman Rushdie is fueling a Republican investigation to root out pro-Iran regime propaganda in U.S. colleges.

Professor Nader Hashemi's comments—which claimed that Rushdie's alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, could have been lured into the attack by Mossad agents—are a sign of the increasing prevalence of pro-Iranian regime propaganda in U.S. academic institutions, according to Republican foreign policy leaders who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

In the coming months, lawmakers associated with the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest Republican caucus in Congress, will launch oversight investigations into schools like the University of Denver as part of a bid to root out "anti-Semitic and anti-American conspiracy theories," the lawmakers and senior Republican congressional officials told the Free Beacon.

"Anti-Semitic and anti-American conspiracy theories are now widespread in universities and poisoning students' minds," Rep. Jim Banks (R. Ind.), the RSC's chairman and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon, pointing to Hashemi's comments as a prime example of the bias he intends to investigate. "Next Congress, House Republicans must exercise oversight on professors promoting the Iranian regime's anti-Semitic propaganda and reform higher ed."

Though University of Denver distanced itself from Hashemi's remarks, university professors have been fired or disciplined for seemingly more minor offenses. Georgetown Law professor Ilya Shapiro, for instance, was forced to resign his position after he criticized President Joe Biden's African-American Supreme Court nominee. Princeton University fired a distinguished professor, Joshua Katz, after he raised questions about the school's racial policies.

Banks said this discrepancy shows how anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are tolerated while professors with more conservative views find themselves targeted for online harassment and, in some cases, fired.

"Universities are so rotten that professors who state scientific truths about gender are more likely to lose their jobs than those who make anti-Semitic smears," Banks said.

The RSC is working on several efforts to counter foreign influence in academia, primarily from China and Iran, according to a senior Republican congressional official. These oversight efforts will ramp up during the next Congress, particularly if the Republican Party takes the majority and has control over the relevant committees.

Rep. Greg Steube (R., Fla.), an RSC member who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon that Hashemi's comments could endanger pro-Israel students on campus and feed into conspiracy theories about Jews.

"Propaganda from the Iranian regime has no place on American college campuses," Steube said. "Elitist university professors are already the radical left's bullhorn, but these comments by University of Denver professor Nader Hashemi are especially dangerous, untrue, and promote blatant anti-Semitism to our college students."

Hashemi's comments about Mossad's supposed role in the attack were first made on the Iran Podcast, hosted by Iran analyst Negar Mortazavi, who has written for publications including the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an isolationist think tank bankrolled by George Soros and Charles Koch. The Quincy Institute is a leading supporter of the Biden administration's efforts to provide Tehran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief as part of a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal.

A "much more likely" scenario for the attack, Hashemi said in the interview, revolves around Matar's supposed communications "with someone online who claimed to be an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps supporter and lured him into attacking Salman Rushdie. And that so-called person online claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran could have been a Mossad operative."

Because Israel is opposed to a new nuclear accord with Iran, it could have staged the attack to disrupt the negotiations, Hashemi said.

Israel "has taken a very strong position against reviving the Iran nuclear agreement. We were in very sensitive negotiations, it looked like an agreement was imminent, and then the attack on Salman Rushdie takes place," he said. "I think that's one possible interpretation and scenario that could explain the timing of this, at this moment, during these sensitive political discussions."

A spokesman for the University of Denver told the Free Beacon earlier this week that Hashemi "does not speak for the university" but did not indicate that the university will undertake any disciplinary measures. "His comments do not reflect the point of view of the university, nor are we aware of any facts that support this view," the spokesman said.

The school also said it remains "committed to assuring that the experience of our Jewish students, faculty, and staff is safe, supportive, respectful, and welcoming."

Hashemi declined to be interviewed by the Free Beacon about his comments, saying the publication has "promoted odious views that I strongly object to on ethical grounds."