Minnesota matters

University of Minnesota professor who denied Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7 a candidate for school’s top DEI job

Sima Shakhsari attended at least one on-campus rally, where she was seen chanting, ‘Globalize the Intifada’

Wolf Humanities Center, University of Pennsylvania

Sima Shakhsari

A University of Minnesota professor who denied Hamas terrorists committed rape and sexual violence against Israeli women on Oct. 7 is being considered for a top administrative position in the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) department.

Sima Shakhsari is an associate professor in the department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, and has been seen on campus attending pro-Palestinian rallies chanting “Globalize the Intifada.” Shakhsari, who uses they/he/she pronouns, also has a long history of aligning with radical groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). 

Shakhsari’s denial that Israeli women were raped by Hamas came during the professor’s testimony last Thursday to the university review panel, part of the application process in being considered for the associate dean of the DEI office in the College of Liberal Arts position. 

“I cannot be silenced in the face of this genocide, and I’m not gonna argue whether it’s a genocide or not,” Shakhsari said in a one-hour speech, which almost entirely focused on Israel and Gaza.

In the speech, she volunteered she hadn’t seen any evidence of Hamas’ sexual violence against Israelis — which has been well-documented by testimony from victims, video footage and forensic evidence. “Of course, any person who has been raped, I am a rape crisis counselor, I believe the survivors. I am yet to see Israeli rape survivors of Hamas come and speak,” Shakhsari said.  

Shakhsari went on to say that it’s racist to say that Hamas committed rape. “Part of our work and part of my experience… was how men of color in the U.S. have been demonized and have been falsely accused of rape. Exactly because of racism. We know the history of lynching, of black man, lynching, of indigenous man lynching Latinos in this country… because of accusations and they’re kind of violating the innocence of white women, right? And I think that is also this force that is repeated in the context of Israel and Palestine, because Arab men have been demonized and have been marked as monstrous people who are rapists and for violence.” 

Bruno Chaouat, a professor of French and Jewish studies at University of Minnesota who attended Shakhsari’s job application speech, told Jewish Insider that he “[doesn’t] understand why [Shakhsari’s] talk focused on Gaza. It’s a job for a campus in Minnesota. You’re supposed to talk about how to include people from diverse backgrounds and races, so it seemed completely off topic.” 

Benji Kaplan, executive director of University of Minnesota Hillel, said in a statement to JI, “I have faith that those running the search will take into account the qualifications and deficiencies of the remaining candidates and that they will hire a new Associate Dean for DEI that is supportive of all students.” Kaplan added that he would share further thoughts on Shakhsari if the professor is selected for the position. 

The University of Minnesota declined to elaborate whether Shakhsari is being considered for the position. “Privacy laws generally prevent us from commenting on personnel matters,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to JI.

According to an automatic reply email, Shakhshari is on leave for the duration of the fall semester and is not teaching any classes next semester. The automated email response from Shakhshari’s university email address is signed, “I stand with the people of Palestine in their struggle for freedom and justice, and condemn the Israeli state’s settler colonial violence and genocide in Gaza.” 

A professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in the study of antisemitism within DEI frameworks and requested to remain anonymous said she is “very confused about how Shakhsari was even nominated for this position.”

“[Shakhsari] is antagonistic to people she recognizes as Jewish faculty or Jewish students,” the professor said.  

In 2019, Shakhsari moderated a panel discussion at the National SJP conference. The gathering, held at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, was themed “Beyond Struggle: From Roots to Branches Towards Liberation.” While a professor at Wellesley College in 2015, Shaksari was affiliated with the local SJP chapter.

In a Facebook post in Sep. 2020, Shakhsari cited support of Leila Khaled, a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who participated in the hijacking of planes in 1969 and 1970. Khaled has said that the Second Intifada, during which over 1,000 Israelis were killed, mainly in suicide bombings, failed because it was not violent enough.

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