More than 500 academics are calling for George Washington University to suspend a professor who has called all Israelis "racist," arguing it would be "highly inappropriate" to force Jewish students to take her class.
The academics, not all of whom are Jewish or Zionist, say the university should not force "Jewish and Israeli students to take a course" with psychology professor Lara Sheehi. Her online remarks are "rife with profanity and hateful rhetoric against Zionism and Israelis," according to the group of mental health clinicians and university professors.
The letter comes after Sheehi's Jewish students alleged in a federal civil rights complaint that the professor discriminated against them in a mandatory diversity course and then retaliated when they confronted her about her anti-Semitic comments. In their letter, the academics said the Jewish students' allegations are "quite plausible" in light of Sheehi's public remarks.
"Imagine the scandal that would erupt if a group of students from another background—Black students, Muslim students, or LGBT students—alleged that their professor excluded and shamed them based on their religion, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation in a required course on diversity," the academics wrote in an open letter to the university last week. "The calls for such a professor's resignation or removal would be swift and severe."
George Washington University tapped a "third party" to investigate the allegations against Sheehi shortly after the federal complaint was filed. A spokeswoman for the university did not respond to a request for comment.
Sheehi deleted her Twitter account following a Washington Free Beacon report on the complaint, as well as other comments she has made, including accusing Zionists of having a mental illness and that Jewish people can inflict "violence" by their mere presence. She published her own response last week to the accusations, alleging a vast "right-wing" campaign by the Free Beacon and others to defame professors like her "who critically engage settler-colonialism, white supremacy, anti-blackness, gender (especially trans issues), sexuality, disability, reproductive rights." She also attacked the anti-Semitism watchdog StandWithUs, which helped file the complaint, calling its claims against her "baseless."
"I have been targeted specifically because I am an Arab woman whose scholarship and activism advocates for Palestinians and, in the process, critiques Israeli settler-colonial Apartheid," Sheehi said. She did not respond to a request for comment.
But the academics disagree in their letter, saying Sheehi's "classroom conduct" is under scrutiny, not her "political and academic views." If administrators condone such conduct, they argue, it will "fuel a dangerous turn in the mental health field where activism is entering the consulting room, where 'anti-discrimination' efforts covertly condone discrimination, and where frankly unprofessional and unethical behavior masquerades under the guise of academic freedom."
While they denounced efforts to "doxx" or threaten her, the academics asked for Sheehi to be relieved of teaching any required courses until her complaint is fully adjudicated. If the allegations are corroborated, they add, it will "cast doubt upon her suitability to train psychotherapists in general."
In her response, Sheehi also defended her decision to invite a radical speaker to campus who once praised a Palestinian teenager who had attempted to stab two Israelis to death in 2015. That speaker, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, denounced "white Israeli racism" and called for violence against Jews during her visit.
Sheehi said attendance at the event was "not mandatory" and that she devoted the next class period "to discussing issues raised by a few Jewish students," which ended up "replacing the scheduled class lesson on troubling the 'micro' in microaggressions related to Asian erasure and fatphobia." She implied that her Jewish students surreptitiously recorded that class "without consent" and then used it for their discrimination complaint. Their actions, she said, follow "a long tradition of fomenting racially motivated hate against Arab scholars (especially Arab women scholars) who are engaged in Palestine solidarity work." She further blames her university for not responding to "two formal DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] bias incident complaints that were filed on my behalf."
Sheehi did not deny in her response that she excluded readings on anti-Semitism from her mandatory diversity course—an allegation contained in her students' complaint. Nor did she reject any anti-Semitic comments she has made on social media. Instead, she labeled her critics "sexist" and "misogynist," alleging that they are merely attempting to "stabilize patriarchy and whiteness" and "disciplining BIPOC women’s bodies and minds."
"My anger, in those tweets, and in what fuels my liberatory fire, is justified," she said. "It is a political anger."
Though she maintains critics are on the verge of silencing her "scholarship," that has not stopped Sheehi from any number of professional engagements. On Saturday, she is slated to be the keynote speaker at a virtual conference discussing the topic of "disrupting settler colonial violence in the clinic."