An independent investigation commissioned by George Washington University cleared psychology professor Lara Sheehy of accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against the academic by a pro-Israel group earlier this year.
A summary of the investigation’s findings, released Monday, said that not only did the allegations of anti-Semitism against Sheehy have no evidence or support, but that Sheehy “repeatedly acknowledged students’ feelings, gave students space to express their concerns, and denounced anti-Semitism.” as a real and present danger.”
“Many of the statements the Complaint alleges were made by Dr. Sheehy were, according to those who heard them, either inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented,” the report of the investigation by Crowell and Moring LLP said.
In a statement released by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Sheehy welcomed the findings and said she hopes the report’s findings “send a clear message” to groups trying to “harass and silence” academics like herself.
“I am grateful for the investigators and the effort to document precisely what I knew from day one: Those of us who fight for Palestinian liberation do not do so on the shoulders of our Jewish brothers, nor do we discriminate, retaliate or isolate Jewish or Israeli students in our ranks.”
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Shehhi is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University and co-author of the book, Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: The Practice of Resistance in Palestine.
The investigation came after the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs (SWU) filed a federal complaint against the university in January. The complaint alleged that Sheehy had created a hostile environment for Jewish students during a mandatory course on diversity during the fall 2022 semester.
The complaint centered around the definition of anti-Semitism, claiming that Al-Shehhi had made offensive statements and denied that students had been exposed to anti-Semitism.
However, Crowell’s investigation said, “None of the students interviewed recalled Dr. Sheehy denying the existence of antisemitism or denying the students’ lived experiences.”
The summary of the investigation reads, “With regard to the interactions that occurred in Dr. Sheehy’s class, to be clear, the investigation found no evidence that the speech crossed the line into anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
“While we respect the right of individuals to be different, we strongly condemn the hateful messages and threats directed at Dr. Sheehy and her family that have occurred since SWU published her letter to OCR.”
Allegations of antisemitism on American universities
While the independent investigation cleared her of allegations of anti-Semitism, the StandWithUs complaint was filed with the US Department of Education’s (OCR) Office for Civil Rights – not the university – so the case may continue.
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StandWithUs said in a statement on Monday that it disagreed with the findings and called on the university to release a full version of the report.
In the wake of the StandWithUS complaint, an Israeli group of more than 700 academics sent a letter to the university in solidarity with Sheehy, saying the academy was targeted “precisely because it stands in solidarity with the Palestinians.”
Sheehy also defended herself in February, arguing in a CounterPunch article that allegations of anti-Semitism against her were an attempt to “stoke controversy about my studies and activism in Palestine.”
The definition of anti-Semitism has been a mainstream issue in the United States over the past few years, as many pro-Israel groups have been lobbying for universities to adopt the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which has already been adopted by the governments of more than two dozen countries, including In that the United States.
The IHRA definition lists 11 examples of anti-Semitism, seven of which relate to Israel. The definition has been criticized as an attempt to suppress free speech, including by Jewish scholars and the Israel Progressive Network.
In January, the Office for Civil Rights announced that it would delay a decision on whether to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The Office of Civil Rights has served as a battleground for pro-Israel groups, which have filed numerous federal complaints against American universities over allegations of anti-Semitism.
George Washington University has also been the center of many cases of alleged discrimination, including from Palestinian students and staff who say the school has discriminated against them on the basis of “national origin discrimination”.
In February, several students filed a civil rights complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, stating that the university had refused to provide services to Palestinian students due to addressing trauma related to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
In 2021, Palestine Legal filed a similar complaint against George Washington University, at the time on behalf of an employee who said he was also denied access to the school’s trauma services.
In 2015, campus police ordered a student to remove the Palestinian flag from his window. The university president later apologized for the incident.
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