'Job should go to candidate who's supportive of all students'

US professor who denies Oct. 7 rape cases up for top role at campus diversity office

University of Minnesota’s Sima Shakhsari tells panel she has not seen evidence of sexual violence by Hamas-led terrorists, says such accusations are racist

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Sima Shakhsari, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. (Wolf Humanities Center/University of Pennsylvania)
Sima Shakhsari, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. (Wolf Humanities Center/University of Pennsylvania)

A University of Minnesota associate professor who has denied that Hamas-led terrorists committed rape and sexual violence during their devastating onslaught on October 7 in Israel is a candidate for a senior position at the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) department, according to a Friday report.

Sima Shakhsari, who works at the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, said she had not seen evidence of Israeli victims of rape and sexual violence while testifying last Thursday to the university review panel, part of the application process for the associate dean role at the office, Jewish Insider said.

“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.

The Palestinian terrorists’ widespread sexual assault during October 7 and their use of rape as a weapon of war have been widely documented amid a mounting body of evidence.

Investigators have begun building several sexual assault cases against terrorists who rampaged through communities in southern Israel on October 7, citing eyewitnesses, video evidence, testimony from captured terrorists, and photographs of victims’ bodies that all point toward systemic sexual violence.

It is believed that some female and male hostages among the 240 people taken by terrorists on October 7 and who have since been released were raped while in captivity.

Shakhsari argued during her application review that it was racist to claim the Palestinian terrorists committed the acts, comparing it to false accusations of rape against men of color in the United States.

“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.”

Illustrative: Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators rally near Columbia University in New York on November 15, 2023. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

Shakhsari is associated with radical pro-Palestinian groups on campus, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, and has been seen at recent protests chanting “Globalize the Intifada.” Palestinian terror attacks during the Second Intifada, two decades ago, killed an estimated 1,000 Israelis, and the chant is therefore viewed by some as a call to violence against Jews across the world.

In a September 2020 Facebook post, she expressed support for Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled, a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who took part in plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970.

Bruno Chaouat, a professor of French and Jewish studies who attended the session, said he did not understand why the speech was mainly 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,” he told Jewish Insider.

An unnamed professor who focuses on antisemitism studies said she was “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.

Benji Kaplan, executive director of University of Minnesota Hillel, told Jewish Insider that he believes the role will be given to a candidate “supportive of all students,” and said he would share his views on Shakhsari if she manages to get the position.

In its response to the report, the university refused to say if Shakhsari was up for the position: “Privacy laws generally prevent us from commenting on personnel matters.”

An automated email reply from Shakhsari said she was not teaching classes during the fall semester, adding: “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.”

Anti-Israel activities on campus have surged since war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre, in which 1,200 people in Israel were killed and some 240 taken hostage by terrorists.

At a congressional hearing on college antisemitism earlier this month, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania failed to answer in the affirmative when asked if calls for Jewish genocide violate the universities’ code of conduct, saying only that they do so in certain contexts.

Their responses provoked a backlash, and Penn’s president Liz Magill resigned due to the criticism, while the other two have remained in their positions.

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