American Professor Lara Sheehi has been cleared of allegations of anti-Semitism filed in a letter of complaint by the notorious anti-Palestinian lobby group StandWithUs. Sheehi is assistant professor of Clinical Psychology at the George Washington University’s Professional Psychology Program. She is co-author with Stephen Sheehi of Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practicing Resistance in Palestine which won the 2022 Palestine Book Award for Best Academic Book.
The complaint about alleged anti-Semitism was filed against Sheehi with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. After becoming aware of the complaint in January George Washington University engaged the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP to conduct a third-party independent investigation and thoroughly examine the allegations.
In a summary of the findings published on George Washington’s website, the university said that the investigation included interviews with almost all of the students in the class, as well as faculty and school administrators. It also included a review of a significant number of contemporaneous documents and communications.
“At the conclusion of its review, Crowell found no evidence substantiating the allegations of discriminatory and retaliatory conduct alleged in the complaint,” said the university. “Many of the statements the complaint alleges were made by Dr. Sheehi were, according to those who heard them, either inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented.”
Ongoing concerns over the conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel was highlighted by George Washington. “Underlying much of the discourse that arose in the class is the issue of what is appropriately defined as antisemitism,” said the university, asking, “whether structural critiques of the State of Israel, including actions by the Israeli government, constitute antisemitism.”
The university explained that what is and what is not an appropriate definition of anti-Semitism is being debated in college campuses across the country, and in many other arenas. George Washington went on to warn that StandWithUs and a few of the students in the class, had advocated for an expansive view of the definition of anti-Semitism, “which, if accepted in the university environment, could infringe on free speech principles and academic freedom”.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism is favoured by Israeli lobbyists. Universities and public institutions have come under pressure to adopt the controversial definition. Seven of the 11 examples of anti-Semitism listed in the definition conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism.