Another victim of the campaign to silence Palestinian voices on campus

Lara Sheehi, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at George Washington University, is the latest victim of the relentless campaign waged by StandWithUs against academics giving voice to the Palestinian experience

In yet another attempt to silence knowledge of Israeli oppression against Palestinians, Jewish and Israeli students at George Washington University in Washington D.C., apparently encouraged by the notorious pro-Israel group StandWithUs, have accused a Professor of making antisemitic comments in class and called for her suspension or removal.

Lara Sheehi is a highly regarded psychologist with an established reputation in her field and co-author of Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practising Resistance in Palestine. But Sheehi is only the latest individual to be the target of attack by pro-Israel organisations for describing the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank or elsewhere. Kenneth Roth, former head of Human Rights Watch, was briefly refused a fellowship at Harvard University because, it seems, wealthy donors to the University took exception to HRW’s alleged anti-Israel bias. In Britain, Dr Shahd Abu Salama, a lecturer of Palestinian origin, was repeatedly investigated by her employer, Sheffield Hallam University, evidently under pro-Israel pressure, and despite being exonerated twice she continued to be hounded by claims of antisemitism. Shaima Dallali was dismissed from the presidency of the British National Union of Students on allegations of antisemitism based upon a few social media posts from years earlier. And students in the University of Melbourne Student Union became the object of harassment and bullying when they drafted and adopted a motion supporting Palestine.

In every case, the accusers employed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which conflates antisemitism with criticism of Israel. And in every case, according to Jeanine Hourani, author of the key article, pro-Israel interests have singled out individuals in order to suggest that the problem is not Israel’s systemic human rights violations but merely a small number of prejudiced people within the academy. Unfortunately, most universities in Britain and many elsewhere have yielded to pressure to adopt the IHRA definition and are therefore vulnerable to these muddled charges.

The American online magazine The NewArab has carried two reports on the Sheehi affair which are reprinted in full below:

US professor accused of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel students

Brooke Anderson

Washington D.C., 21 January 2023

A US professor who has been critical of Israel is being faced with legal action by pro-Israel groups over alleged anti-Semitism in her class.
A professor at a US university is being faced with a legal complaint over alleged anti-Semitism [Getty]

A US professor who is being accused of anti-Semitism by several Jewish and Israeli students has been at the centre of a debate over academic freedom and the definition of anti-Semitism.

Lara Sheehi, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University in Washington DC, is being accused by several Jewish and Israeli students of promoting anti-Semitism in her mandatory diversity class for psychology students last semester.

The situation, which the parties failed to resolve amicably, is now being taken up in a Title XI (alleging intentional discrimination) case by StandWithUS, described by many as a right-wing group connected to the Israeli government.

The group appears to specialise in campus-related issues. The Forward did a detailed profile of their work more than a decade ago.

The complaint, which does not name the students, largely stems from a guest lecture by Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian from Hebrew University, who focuses on trauma, state-based crimes and gender violence.  In her lecture at GW, she spoke about war and resistance. The complaint alleges that she referred to Israelis as racist.

According to her CV, she appears to mentor and teach students with Jewish and Arab names at Hebrew University. An online search does not seem to show serious student complaints about her previously, though some of her research on the Israeli military has been controversial.

In addition to that lecture, students have complained that Sheehi has negatively singled out her class’s Jewish students and has criticised Israel and Zionism. The complaint says this is anti-Semitic, based on the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. 

The 37-page complaint repeatedly tries to tie criticism of Israel and Zionism to anti-Semitism. It goes on to argue that because of this the students felt unsafe in the class.

One statement which the complaint alleges Sheehi made to a student is, “It’s not your fault that you were born in Israel”.

This has repeatedly been quoted on the Internet and social media.

The controversy seems to have divided the Internet between those who support Sheehi and those who would like to see her punished.

At US universities, accusations of anti-Semitism going far beyond what would be considered hate crimes or harassment. Teaching materials and professors’ opinions are often fair game for official complaints.

Referring to a piece by The Forward, the Jerusalem Post noted that “over the course of the 2021-2022 academic year, Jewish students across the political spectrum told the Forward they found claims of pervasive antisemitism on campus exaggerated. Some said they thought the frequent involvement of outside pro-Israel groups was counterproductive.”

This controversy at GW comes at around the same time as that of former Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth, whose Harvard fellowship was initially blocked because of his criticism of Israel.

On Friday, Roth warned about the dangers of stifling academic freedom for less prominent figures over criticism of Israel

“Harvard should still make explicit that it will respect academic freedom even for less-visible critics of Israel,” he wrote. “The danger isn’t for me but for scholars and students who face possible retaliation without the ability to attract public attention.”

The New Arab contacted GW, Lara Sheehi, StandWithUS and Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian for comment, but none responded on Friday.


Lara Sheehi: Stop silencing Palestine solidarity in academia

Jeanine Hourani
24 Jan, 2023
The recent attack on academic Lara Sheehi shows the continued silencing of Palestine solidarity in universities. Looking back at global student movements can inspire our fight back against the pro-Israel lobby’s smears, writes Jeanine Hourani.
While universities are more than happy to start adopting decolonisation as a buzzword, they miserably fail when it comes to taking material action, writes Jeanine Hourani. [GETTY]

We are currently witnessing a global silencing of pro-Palestinian voices across academic institutions, with Assistant Professor Lara Sheehi becoming the most recent target of the Zionist lobby’s smear campaigns.

I first came across Lara’s work when she co-authored Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practising Resistance in Palestine. The book is unapologetic in its truth telling and a work of active, material decolonisation. It was thus unsurprising, albeit heart-breaking and infuriating, when I learned that Lara was under investigation by her employer – George Washington University – based on a complaint filed by StandWithUs, an organisation who self-proclaims its “love” for the genocidal, settler colonial state.

Of course something as simple as the truth would threaten an organisation committed to upholding an illegitimate state that’s built on lies.

”Academic institutions within the Israeli settler colonial project manufacture violence and export their structures and tactics across the globe. In their inception, Israeli institutions are built on stolen Palestinian land – Tel Aviv University is built atop the demolished Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis, and Ariel University is located within an Israeli settlement.”

Lara’s experience comes off the back of former Human Rights Watch (HRW) chief being denied a Harvard fellowship due to “anti-Israel bias”. These examples are only the most recent in what has been a marked increase in smear campaigns orchestrated by the Zionist lobby and its supporters over the last year. In the UK, Dr Shahd Abu Salama was repeatedly investigated and suspended by her employer, Sheffield Hallam University.

Months after Shahd was exonerated, Shaima Dallali was dismissed from her role as president of the National Union of Students (NUS). Shaima’s dismissal is the first of an NUS President in the organisation’s 100-year history, reflecting the decimisation of the union’s democratic processes and a bowing to organisations such as UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) and the openly Zionist Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

In Australia, the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) passed a motion in May 2022 entitled UMSU Stands with Palestine – BDS and Solidarity Policy, and students who were involved in drafting and passing it were consequently subjected to bullying, harassment, and intimidation both privately and publicly.

All these campaigns, whether in the metropole of Western imperialism (the UK) or in the settler colonies of the US and Australia, are underpinned by accusations of antisemitism that are based on the IHRA definition – a definition that has been widely critiquedincluding by its drafter, for conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

The widespread and increased uptake of the IHRA definition is catalysed by organisations like StandWithUs and directly correlates to the increased weaponisation of antisemitism to legitimise Israel’s settler colonial project. Anti-Zionist Jewish individuals and organisations have continued to insist that the conflation with anti-Zionism obscures the real meaning of antisemitism. Indeed, antisemitism is a legitimate threat to Jewish safety and such conflation prevents meaningful action when it comes to combating its reality.

The Zionist lobby and its supporters have strategically reduced each target of their smear campaigns to individuals: Lara, Shahd, Shaima, and those students involved in drafting and passing the UMSU motion. In doing so, the Zionist lobby is attempting to atomise Palestinians and reduce the “problem” to a small number of people within the academy.

There are armies that stand with and behind these individual faces, all unified by a commitment to Palestinian liberation, and this is what has driven the success of our counter-campaigns: the UMSU motion remains, Shahd was exonerated, and Lara will be too.

These wins are only possible by the power of an organised movement, and it is the existence of this movement that the Zionist lobby is working to invisibilise.

Academic institutions within the Israeli settler colonial project manufacture violence and export their structures and tactics across the globe. In their inception, Israeli institutions are built on stolen Palestinian land – Tel Aviv University is built atop the demolished Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis, and Ariel University is located within an Israeli settlement.

Israeli academic institutions enable the perpetration of war crimes by the settler colonial military through supporting the development of weapon systems and military doctrines. Students who attend Israeli academic institutions are subject to repression when it comes to Palestine – a recent, prominent example is that of a Masters student at Haifa University who’s degree was revoked because he researched the Tantura massacre.

Students affiliated with the Israeli military are rewarded within academic institutions – Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, and Haifa University offer scholarships to students who served in the military during the 2014 attacks on Gaza.

At the same time, the Israeli regime suffocates and isolates higher education institutions in the West Bank and Gaza. in March 2022, the Israeli government instituted a policy on who can study and teach at Palestinian universities and for how long.

Despite this, Palestinian university campuses continue to be a hotbed for student organising, but Palestinian students are regularly met with violence, arrest and imprisonment for their organising efforts. All the while, academic institutions in the West remain obsessed with the farcical notion of impartiality and objectivity while upholding Zionist logics, partnering with Israeli academic institutions, and dismissing our calls for academic boycott.

Student activism on university campuses has a history longer than any Israeli institution. In Latin America, traditions of student organising began in the 19th Century. Most notably, the University Revolution of 1918 which started in Argentina and spread across Latin America, calling for the democratisation of universities.

In the 1970s, South African students were pivotal in the anti-apartheid movement. Most famously, the Soweto Uprising of 1976 describes a series of student-led protests. More recently, the 2015 Rhodes Must Fall protest movement was spearheaded by students at the University of Cape Town and led to a wider movement to ‘decolonise’ higher education.

However, while universities are more than happy to start adopting decolonisation as a buzzword, they miserably fail when it comes to taking material action. At a most basic level, universities are required to fulfil their duty of care towards their staff and students by ensuring they are safe from harassment, intimidation, censorship, and false accusations. Yet, these institutions continue to support Zionism over anticolonialism and justice, drawing on false notions of Jewish safety that, in the words of Palestinian academic Lana Tatour, confuse Jewish safety with Zionist discomfort.

There was a time when universities produced knowledge in the service of justice and revolution. Today, academic institutions serve as sites of violence against Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices. We must demand better because unless we do, there will be more Laras, Shahds and Shaimas.

Jeanine Hourani is a Palestinian organiser, writer, and researcher. She is an ESRC funded PhD candidate at the University of Exeter researching women, resistance, and mental health in Palestine.

Follow her on Twitter:@jeaninehourani

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of their employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.

The original articles can be found here:

US professor accused of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel students (

and here:

Lara Sheehi: Stop silencing Palestine solidarity in academia (