Antisemitism’s social justice face on college campuses highlighted in a Jewish student’s complaint at George Washington University. (Opinion)
In early January, news broke of a Title VI discrimination complaint filed against the George Washington University on behalf of an anonymous Jewish student. The allegations within the complaint were shocking, and numerous national outlets picked up the story immediately. Reasonable-minded observers across the country could not fathom how the kind of discrimination alleged in the complaint could be persistent and tolerated on the campus of such a prominent American university.
Sadly, Jewish students here at the George Washington University did not react to this news with any sense of surprise. I am one of those Jewish students. Antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on college campuses across the nation, mine in particular, and the allegations contained in the Title VI complaint were merely one more instance of the oldest form of bigotry. Antisemitism has been provided with a new home and is festering on college campuses. It hides behind a facade of social justice.
Antisemitism has been provided with a new home and is festering on college campuses.
The Title VI complaint in question outlines gross antisemitic comments and behavior by Professor Lara Sheehi of the GWU psychology department. Among other misdeeds, Sheehi allegedly told one student, “It’s not your fault you were born in Israel.”
Further reporting on the situation alleges that Professor Sheehi “spread lies about [her Israeli students] to the faculty—smearing [their] reputations to the people who are going to be [their] clinical supervisors for years to come.” According to the complaint itself, Sheehi leveled accusations of racism against Jewish students and urged their peers to denigrate and isolate them based on their Jewish identity. Additionally, the complaint claims that Sheehi punished the students in question after they confronted her. The group contends that the university supported the professor’s conduct.
Even if one were to give Professor Sheehi the benefit of the doubt and dismiss the allegations against her as exaggerations, her past tweets provide all of the character evidence that is needed. As has been widely reported, Sheehi has tweeted (on her private Twitter account), “Israelis are so f——g racist” and “Destroy Zionism and commit to land back, then we’ll take you seriously you f——g genocidal f—s. F—k you.”
Don’t you just love it when academics think using profanity helps them articulate their points? Doesn’t this show just the level of professionalism and impartiality that one expects from a professor at an esteemed university?
The element of the case that may be the most ironic (and concerning) is that the class taught by Professor Sheehi is a required diversity course in the university’s postgraduate professional psychology program. It is not an elective about Israel or geopolitical conflict.
Anyone who’s been paying attention to higher education over the last several years has likely noticed a shift in focus towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). There’s a wide range of opinion about the implementation of such curricula, but I would think that most people view Professor Sheehi’s discrimination and rhetoric as counterproductive to the goals of an inclusive environment.
Unfortunately, those who agree with Professor Sheehi view her opinions and actions as being in line with the goals of DEI. Many on the left (particularly on campuses) view Israel as a settler-colonial ethnostate (and insert any other buzzwords that may seem remotely related). If one views Israel that way and believes Zionism to be synonymous with racism, then of course rooting out any trace of Zionism from one’s campus is the just thing to do. The only problem: Zionism is not racism.
The class taught by Professor Sheehi is a required diversity course.
Instead, Zionism is the theory and belief that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination and a state in their indigenous homeland. To deny the Jewish people that right while affording it to any other ethnic group is inherently antisemitic. Yet even if one does not believe that anti-Zionism is antisemitism—even if one does believe that Israel is an evil, illegitimate, and genocidal state—it is still discriminatory to single out specific students for having roots in that country.
Perhaps attempting to absolve itself of any responsibility in the situation, GWU hired an outside firm to conduct an external review of Sheehi’s behavior and recommend a course of action. At the conclusion of this “comprehensive” investigation in late March, the university announced that the firm had “found no evidence substantiating the allegations of discriminatory and retaliatory conduct alleged in the complaint.” GWU also said, “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.” The university declined to release the actual report itself.
So there you have it. Students taking offense when their professor tweets “Israelis are so f——g racist” is just a misunderstanding due to lack of “context.” Nevertheless, while the university’s external review is over, the initial Title VI complaint is still pending before the federal Department of Education.
The university has said that it wants to recognize the prevalence of antisemitism while also respecting academic freedom. Professor Sheehi prides herself on being a staunch supporter of the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This is where the university’s position does not add up. Boycotting anything having to do with Israel, even including its people and research institutions, is the antithesis of academic freedom—and is hypocritical in the extreme when one considers the problematic behavior of many states that are not boycotted. This is not even to mention the inaccurate and ludicrous premises used to justify support for the BDS movement.
Furthermore, if the university were sincere about recognizing the prevalence of antisemitism on campus and confronting it, it would focus much more on actually doing so. Nearly monthly, like clockwork, it seems we have another antisemitic incident at GWU that garners national media attention. The university releases its usual platitude-filled statement of condemnation, but when it comes to actually effecting substantive change, it fumbles the ball.
In truly fighting antisemitism, as people continue to say on campus, the George Washington University never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Ezra Meyer is a senior at The George Washington University studying economics and public policy. He is chairman of GW College Republicans and previously served as president of the student group GW for Israel.
Originally published by The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Republished with permission.
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