Antisemitism Watchdog Group Files Complaint Against George Washington University For Alleged ‘Hostility’ Toward Jewish Students

  • Antisemitism watchdog group StandWithUs filed a Title VI complaint against George Washington University for allegedly allowing a “hostile” environment toward Jewish students. 
  • Clinical Psychology professor Lara Sheehi told a Jewish Israeli student during her class that “It’s not your fault you were born in Israel,” according to the complaint.
  • “It’s been really disturbing to see, it’s been really painful to feel, not only to be ignored by the administration but to actually feel like they are facilitating or feeding this retaliation against us and perpetuating this hostile environment,” a Jewish student told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

StandWithUs (SWU), an antisemitism watchdog organization, filed a Title VI complaint against George Washington University (GWU) Thursday alleging that the university and a psychology professor created a “pervasive, hostile, and discriminatory environment for Jewish and Israeli students.”

Professor Lara Sheehi, an assistant professor of Clinical Psychology at GWU, is named as the main offender in the report for continually silencing and demeaning Jewish and Israeli students during her class, according to the complaint.  SWU filed the official complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights alleging that the university had failed to take action after Jewish students were reportedly “singled out for repeated and persistent harassment” by Sheehi and their peers. (RELATED: Universities Are Seeing An Enormous Spike In Antisemitism. Here’s Why)

Sheehi asked students on the first day of class to introduce themselves and share a bit of their background, affirming everyone’s responses, except for Jewish students.

“As each student spoke, Professor Sheehi responded by validating the student’s identity,” the complaint stated. “When a Jewish Israeli student introduced herself and said that she was from Israel, however, Professor Sheehi’s response was, ‘It’s not your fault you were born in Israel,’ thereby implying the student’s Israeli national identity is something of which she should be ashamed.”

One week, Sheehi invited Dr. Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to speak during one of the classes, according to the complaint. Shalhoub-Kevorkian has a history of making antisemitic and “patently false” claims about Israel, Jewish people and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, including claims that Israel tests its weapons on Palestinian children.

Sheehi reportedly opened her class the following week by asking students what the “pulse” of the room was, and several Jewish students communicated that they felt that Dr. Shalhoub-Kevorkian had been extremely hostile in her presentation regarding Israel and Jewish people the week prior, according to the complaint.

“One Jewish student explained that she was feeling ‘vulnerable and unsafe’ because the talk had been a two-hour diatribe against one group—namely, Jews,” the complaint stated. “She explained that to target only the Jewish state, when there are regimes around the world, including China, Russia, and Iran, that engage in human rights abuses, constituted the application of an antisemitic double standard.”

Sheehi denied the concerns and allegedly claimed that anti-Zionism was not antisemitism, in addition stating her view on the subject was a “non-negotiable truth” and a “historical fact.”

One of Sheehi’s students, who is Jewish and requested to remain anonymous to prevent retaliation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that Sheehi “immediately shut down” the issues raised by Jewish students.

“We were demeaned and she twisted our words to make us look like the problem, which is pretty classic antisemitism, scapegoating the Jew, gaslighting the Jew, making us seem like we’re the issue,” the student explained. “So it became really impossible to be a Jew in this program and to be vocal about our experiences.”

The campus of George Washington University is seen as classes were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Washington, DC, on May 7, 2020.  (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

After multiple attempts to discuss their concerns with Sheehi, the Jewish students reported the incidents to the university administration but ultimately the university failed to take any action against Sheehi or condemn the statements made during the class, according to the complaint. Additionally, students later learned that Sheehi had been making false accusations regarding the Jewish students, saying the students were racist and that they had called Dr. Shalhoub-Kevorkian a “terrorist.”

Following Sheehi’s false allegations, several Jewish students were subjected to disciplinary hearings to “acknowledge their alleged wrongdoing” and Sheehi’s student told DCNF that, while no explanation of the charges were ever given to students despite their requests, if they do not comply the situation would escalate very quickly.

“It’s clear if we don’t comply with it and satisfy the requirements of it then it can rise to a higher level and become a more severe disciplinary measure that would go on our permanent record and would follow us for the rest of our careers,” the student stated. “So it’s become very clear that speaking up about antisemitism in this program just results in retaliation.”

Earlier in the fall semester, GWU had multiple reports of antisemitic harassment from the student group “Student for Justice In Palestine” which led to a university investigation in December. Sheehi’s student noted that the antisemitism environment at GWU was “continuous.”

“It’s clear to me that the events like the ones in my class lead to things like the string of antisemitism incidents … like desecration of a Torah scroll, the Zionist ‘fuck off’ posters, and intifada chanting outside the Hillel,” the student said. “It’s been really disturbing to see, it’s been really painful to feel, not only to be ignored by the administration but to actually feel like they are facilitating or feeding this retaliation against us and perpetuating this hostile environment.”

GWU spokesperson Julia Metjian told DCNF that the university “strongly condemns antisemitism” and was aware of the complaint.

“The university will respond to OCR regarding any complaint it may receive from OCR,” Metjan stated. “In the meantime, the university will continue to provide support to students as well as faculty who have shared concerns about recent experiences and work with students and faculty involved to take appropriate actions to address these concerns.”

Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Sheehi did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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