Guardian unmoved by Jewish students’ complaint about professor’s antisemitism

When you see Chris McGreal’s byline in any Guardian article about Israel or antisemitism, it’s clear that (Zionist) Jews and or Israelis are not going to be depicted with anything approaching fairness, yet alone sympathy.  His latest piece, though ostensibly a news article, takes the side of a professor who’s been accused of antisemitism by her students. (“George Washington University accused of ‘colluding’ with rightwing pro-Israel group”, Feb. 12), and includes the following:

An Arab professor and lecturer in diversity has accused George Washington University of “colluding” with a rightwing pro-Israel group over a federal complaint accusing her of antisemitism.

The group, StandWithUs (SWU), filed a complaint with the US education department’s civil rights office claiming that Lara Sheehi, an assistant professor of clinical psychology, discriminated against Jewish students by refusing to accept their definitions of antisemitism.

The complaint, filed last month, also accused Sheehi of hate speech about Israel and Zionism, and alleged that the university failed to properly investigate a history of complaints against the professor.

The complaint, filed last month, also accused Sheehi of hate speech about Israel and Zionism, and alleged that the university failed to properly investigate a history of complaints against the professor.

The SWU also claimed that Sheehi took offence at a student’s use of the term “terrorist attack”, and alleged that she invited a speaker who “demonised Israel” and said that “appropriate resistance includes throwing stones”. The complaint said one Jewish student was left “crying” and feeling “deeply unsettled and unsafe” by the talk.

The complaint also cites Sheehi’s actions outside of the classroom including tweets from her now deleted account that said “destroy Zionism”, calling the Israeli military “genocidal fucks” and saying “Israelis can and will be cruel”.

There were other tweets by the professor which McGreal didn’t mention. Her deleted account included the following: “You can’t be a Zionist and also a feminist” “F*** Zionism, Zionists…” “F*** every person who is not yet an anti-Zionist,” and “Zionists are so far up their own a****”.

Additioanl details about the complaint, published in other outlets. include the fact that, on the first day of classes last fall, the professor, who teaches “decolonial, liberatory, and anti-oppressive theories and approaches to clinical treatment”, asked students in the required “diversity” course to share their names and identities.  She went around the room “affirming” each student’s introduction, until, when one student said she was born in Israel, she said “It’s not your fault you were born in Israel”.  The remark evidently set the tone for the course, and was allegedly followed by the professor retaliating against the Jewish students when they raised concerns about her behavior with the administration.

The complaint, which claimed the university violated the section of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states that “no person…shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin…should be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”, says Sheehi accused the students of racism to other faculty members, encouraged classmates to demean and exclude them for their Jewish identity, and took disciplinary measures against them after they confronted her.

Further, during the one-semester course, Sheehi reportedly subjected Jewish students to antisemitic coursework and lectures, evoked antisemitic tropes about Jews being dishonest and using their influence for nefarious purposes, and suggested their failure to acquiesce would threaten their future as clinical psychologists.  Sheehi also invited a guest speaker to give a presentation that students in her class were strongly encouraged to attend which praised a Palestinian teen who attempted to stab two Israelis to death in 2015 and accused Israel of testing weapons systems on Palestinain children.

One of the Jewish students in her class spoke up and explained that Israel is her country, her home, and her identity and then asked the students to imagine what it’s like to go out to a bar on a Friday night in Tel Aviv when there is suddenly a terror attack with people shooting. The student sought to explain to her classmates the reality that she has to live through in her country.  According to the complaintant, Professor Sheehi responded by saying she took offense at the student’s use of the term “terrorist attack”, asserting that the term refers to Palestinians and Arabs, and that the student was evoking Islamophobia – even though the student never mentioned Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims.

Chracteristically, McGreal devoted several paragraphs attempting to undermine the pro-Israel group who filed the complaint on behalf of the Jewish students – including an ad hominem attack against the group’s founder:

“One only need look at its stated mission to see that it is a shameless fringe political activist group prosecuting a right-wing pro-Israel agenda,” she wrote in a lengthy defense in Counterpunch.

SWU, founded in California 2001, has worked closely with the Israeli foreign ministry, including to oppose pro-Palestinian boycotts among students. It maintains a team of dozens of lawyers “to fight antisemitism” and criticism of Israel, principally at universities and high schools. The SWU trains students to record lectures to document alleged anti-Israel bias.

Although the SWU’s American founder, Roz Rothstein, claims the organisation is nonpartisan, she has expressed support for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and denounced Israeli soldiers who criticise the occupation even though she has not served in the Israeli military.

The lone comment in question by Rothstein is from a Haaretz article in 2016 where she said, having grown up participating in the Bnei Akiva youth movement, she personally has an “emotional attachment to Judea and Samaria”.  Contrary to McGreal’s claim, she didn’t, in that article, express support for construction on “Palestinian land”.  Moreover, how what she said discredits SwU, or contradicts the nonpartisan nature of the organisatin’s work, is unclear.

McGreal continues:

A 2015 report by Jewish Voice for Peace identified SWU as among a number of groups that “intervene on campuses in efforts to muzzle political criticisms of Israeli policies”.

As CAMERA has meticulously documented, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a fringe, radical, pro-terrorist organisation which even supported the antisemitic Jewish mapping project, a campaign so vile – and potentially dangerous – that even some within the pro-Palestinian community denounced it.

The fact that McGreal imputes far greater moral legitimacy to the extremist JVP than to a mainstream SwU, while evoking far more sympathy for a professor accused of antisemitism than for the Jewish students who made the complaint, speaks volumes about the Guardian journalist’s hostility to Israel and its Jewish supporters.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Grimey

    Until now, Israel and Jewish people have refrained from sinking to the low ground level of outright lies, false accusations, insults and racist propaganda used by Palestinians and their supporters BUT the time may come when, in order to compete, they will have to use the same disgraceful medieval tactics.

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