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GWU professor faces investigation, federal complaint for antisemitism


Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee claims scholar ‘wrongfully targeted’

George Washington University officials launched an investigation into Professor Lara Sheehi after learning about allegations of how she treated Jewish students.

But the announcement only came after Israel advocacy group Stand With Us filed a public complaint with the federal Department of Education earlier this month. The university itself also stands accused of mistreating students.

The complaint stemmed from reports made by Jewish and Israeli students in the Professional Psychology Program. Sheehi allegedly made the comments, detailed in the complaint, in a mandatory “diversity” course.

“It’s not your fault you were born in Israel,” Sheehi allegedly told one student. In September, the professor invited a guest speaker to a lecture, where the speaker allegedly targeted and “demonized” Israeli and Jewish people.

Sheehi (pictured) allegedly also spread rumors that students referred to the “Brown Bag” speaker as a “terrorist” and that they were Islamophobic. She allegedly verbally attacked her Jewish students and said their presence alone is “violent.”

Sheehi has also said all Zionists have the mental illness “settler psychosis,” according to the complaint. Sheehi then allegedly claimed “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” because “Zionism in and of itself indicates that Jewish folks are different.”

“A professor singling out and targeting Jewish and Israeli students for adverse treatment because of their identity is textbook antisemitic discriminatory conduct,” CEO Roz Rothstein said in a news release shared with The Fix after publication of the article.

Yael Lerman, founding director of the group’s legal department, added in a comment:

George Washington University has failed to provide adequate protection for the Jewish and Israeli students seeking redress from Professor Sheehi’s persistent antisemitic bigotry in and out of the classroom. Instead, George Washington administrators disregarded the students’ allegations and enabled a professor to retaliate against those students after they sought the administration’s help in fighting discrimination.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee announced Jan. 24 it would represent Sheehi, who the group stated is being “wrongfully targeted by [a] far-right Israeli group.”

The committee argues the claims against Sheehi “would otherwise not have resulted in such an exaggerated and prejudicial response” if the professor “were not Arab and her scholarship and activism were not focused on Palestine.”

But multiple students complained about the antisemitism in the program, saying they felt unsafe. Both the professor and university also retaliated against the complaining students, Stand With Us alleged.

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Sheehi did not respond to two requests for comment on the allegations from The Fix sent via email in the past two weeks.

The psychology professor “teaches decolonial, liberatory and anti-oppressive theories and approaches to clinical treatment, case conceptualization, and community consultation,” according to her faculty bio.

The university made the students “acknowledge their alleged wrongdoing” or there would be a permanent disciplinary mark on the students’ academic records, according to the complaint, which added if the students were to make another complaint, there would be a permanent mark on their record.

The Fix reached out to George Washington University twice via email in the past two weeks and asked if the university planned to reverse the punishment against the complaining students and how the university intended to avoid an incident like this from happening again within the program. The university did not respond.

“We are committed to conducting such a thorough examination through an investigation by a third party,” GWU officials wrote in a Jan. 13 statement after media coverage of the initial complaint.

The university said it would not be “prudent” to “comment on specific allegations” but “strongly condemns antisemitism and hatred, discrimination, and bias in all forms.”

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee said the “slander campaigns” against Sheehi are “intended to silence dissenting voices” and “are rooted in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism.”

Editor’s note: The article has been updated with quotes from Stand With Us, shared after publication of the article.

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IMAGE: George Washington University with College Fix edits

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About the Author
Rachel Lalgie -- University of Florida