GWU clears professor of antisemitism charges brought by pro-Israel group
JTA – A George Washington University professor has been cleared of allegations in a federal civil rights complaint that she discriminated against Jewish and Israeli students, in the latest case for universities and pro-Israel groups to struggle over how to define anti-Semitism on the campus.
The summary of findings, by an outside law firm, criticized the pro-Israel group StandWithUs for its “expansive view of the definition of anti-Semitism,” which the report’s authors said would stifle academic freedom if implemented. it is widespread. The university shared the summary on Monday.
StandWithUs had brought the allegations against Lara Sheehi, a Lebanese-born professor of psychology in the university’s graduate program. In its civil rights complaint, filed with the US Department of Education, the group claimed that Sheehi made anti-Semitic comments in class and brought in a guest speaker who shared anti-Zionist comments and that the university did not do enough to address student concerns. .
For several years, pro-Israel legal groups have used the Department of Education’s civil rights office to file numerous federal complaints against universities over speech related to Israel that they have claimed is anti-Semitic. Based on a recent expansion of the department’s scope of civil rights violations related to anti-Semitism, some universities have pledged to do more to combat anti-Semitism – and, at times, pressure back from activists and administrators who deny the charges.
In the case of George Washington University, the school announced in January that law firm Crowell & Moring LLP would commission a third-party investigation into the matter. The Department of Education has not yet opened its own inquiry into the case, according to their records. The Association for Middle Eastern Studies defended Sheehi and called on the university to support her by ending the investigation; hundreds of academics signed an open letter defending her.
That investigation has now vindicated Sheehi, who has also criticized StandWithUs and the Jewish and Israeli students he represented.
Excerpted from an upcoming issue of Parallax Views:
Dr. discusses Lara Sheehi, a GWU professor who is being targeted by right-wing & pro-Israel groups for her stance on Palestine, the random messages sent to her husband about her. pic.twitter.com/Njind2ufNC
— Views Parallax w/ JG Michael (Podcast) (@ViewsParallax) March 16, 2023
Those parties, said the body, “would give a broad view of the definition of anti-Semitism, which, if accepted in the university environment, could violate the principles of free speech and academic freedom.”
Roz Rothstein, director and CEO of StandWithUs, called the report’s summary “disappointing” and “self-serving” in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, but stopped short of addressing her direct critic of her organization’s definition of anti-Semitism.
“While we had hoped that the GW administration would take this opportunity to begin to address its pervasive problem of anti-Semitism, the published ‘summary’ shows that it does nothing but continue to ignore the rights of of Jewish and Israeli students,” Rothstein wrote. . She called on the university to release the report in its entirety, saying some of its findings were “patently false”.
The university supported the findings. “After careful review, I believe the summary faithfully reflects what the university learned through this third-party investigation,” George Washington University President Mark Wrighton wrote in a letter to the university community. He added, “Looking forward, we will continue to work closely with our community members as well as campus and national partners to best support our Jewish and Arab communities.”
The university declined to comment further. He also dealt with recent anti-Semitic controversies involving graffiti outside the Hillel campus and mock damage to the Torah by the Jewish brotherhood.
Among the most prominent allegations of StandWithUs was that Sheehi told an Israeli student, “It’s not your fault you were born in Israel.” Although the investigation did not refer to specific alleged passages, it could not support any claims of anti-Semitic comments made by Sheehi in the class. Sheehi’s alleged comments were “inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented,” the firm’s summary said, citing “those who heard” the comments (a charge disputed by StandWithUs).
George Washington University says its 3rd party investigation found allegations of anti-Semitism against Professor Lara Sheehi to be unfounded, her comments “either inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented” https://t .co/qKFAZkSfEv
— Luke Tress (@luketress) March 27, 2023
The second major allegation, which related to comments made by guest lecturer Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, could not be substantiated by a recording of the event, the summary found. It also involved an event where students were not required to be present — but even in this context, investigators said, Sheehi “repeatedly acknowledged the students’ feelings, gave the students space to to express concern, and he denounced anti-Semitism as a real and immediate danger. Sheehi denying the existence of antisemitism or denying the lived experiences of students.”
The results ruled in favor of Sheehi and the university on other points as well, noting that a Twitter account used by the professor in recent years to denigrate “Israelis” and “Zionists” was outside the purview of university.
Sheehi did not respond to JTA’s request for comment. In a piece published during the inquiry, Sheehi accused her employer of “adhering to StandWithUs’ misrepresentation of my classroom by remaining silent” about the details of the allegations she said the university could refute.