StandWithUs fails to silence scholar

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  March 30, 2023

Lara Sheehi, a professor at George Washington University, has been exonerated of all spurious allegations a right-wing Israel lobby group made against her.

Sheehi stated on Monday that she is “hopeful that these findings will send a clear message to anyone who feels scared or intimidated by external political groups whose explicit aims are to harass and silence us.”

Sheehi, who teaches clinical psychology, was a recent guest on The Electronic Intifada Podcast. She was joined by her lawyer Abed Ayoub, who heads ADC, a group defending the rights of Arab Americans.

After she organized a non-required “brown bag” talk with a Palestinian professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem last fall, anti-Palestinian students took over Sheehi’s class and made numerous racist statements.

StandWithUs, an Israel lobby group notorious for its harassment and targeting of students and scholars who support Palestinian rights, stepped up the smear campaign by filing a complaint to the US Department of Education.

The lobby group claimed that first-year Jewish and Israeli students in the professional psychology program at George Washington University experienced “anti-Semitic discrimination and retaliation,” and accused Sheehi of “anti-Semitism.”

It is a standard trope promoted by Israel lobby organizations to claim that supporting Palestinian rights is tantamount to anti-Jewish bigotry. The claim is solely aimed at silencing activism and disrupting discussion about Israel’s human rights record.

Civil rights group Palestine Legal has filed its own complaint to the government, demanding that the top civil rights office investigate George Washington University for numerous instances of racist abuse and hostility against Palestinian students and faculty who support Palestinian rights.

‘Unambiguous victory’

The independent investigation commissioned by George Washington University found that there was no evidence to support StandWithUs’ claims, the college asserted on Monday.

The university also officially denounced “the hateful messages and threats directed to Dr. Sheehi and her family that have occurred” since StandWithUs publicized its complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Abed Ayoub stated that the results of the investigation “are an unambiguous victory for Dr. Sheehi whose own position has matched the third-party investigators’ findings.”

He added that his group condemns “the actions of StandWithUs, and remain concerned about the irreparable damage they have caused to Dr. Sheehi and to other academics they routinely target.”

Sheehi said that she is “grateful to the investigators and the labor that was expended to meticulously document what I have known since day one: those of us who fight for Palestinian liberation do not do so on the backs of our Jewish siblings, nor do we discriminate, retaliate or isolate Jewish or Israeli students in our classrooms.”

She added that she strongly stands “with the support of an independent report that not only proves my innocence but also asserts the dangerous ramifications of fabricated claims of anti-Semitism against me, an Arab woman, scholar and clinician.”

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014)