(JTA) – George Washington University has cleared a professor of allegations from a federal civil rights complaint that she discriminated against Jewish and Israeli students, in the latest instance of universities and pro-Israel groups wrangling over how to define antisemitism on campus.
The summary of the findings, by an outside law firm, also criticized the pro-Israel group StandWithUs for its “expansive view of the definition of antisemitism,” which the report’s authors said would stifle academic freedom if applied widely. The university shared the summary on Monday.
StandWithUs had brought the allegations against Lara Sheehi, a psychology professor in the university’s graduate program who was born in Lebanon. In its civil rights complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education, the group claimed that Sheehi had made antisemitic comments in class and brought in a guest speaker who shared anti-Zionist views, and that the university hadn’t done enough to address student concerns.
In the last several years, pro-Israel legal groups have used the Department of Education’s civil rights office to file numerous federal complaints against universities for Israel-related speech they have claimed is antisemitic. Built on a recent expansion of the department’s purview into antisemitism-related civil rights violations, these complaints have resulted in some universities pledging to do more to combat antisemitism — and, occasionally, in pushback from activists and administrators who deny the charges.
In George Washington University’s case, the school announced in January it would commission a third-party investigation into the matter, to be conducted by the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP. The Department of Education has not to date opened its own investigation into the case, according to its records. The Middle East Studies Association defended Sheehi and called on the university to support her by ending the investigation; hundreds of academics signed an open letter defending her.
That investigation has now cleared Sheehi of any wrongdoing, while also critiquing StandWithUs and the Jewish and Israeli students it was representing.
Those parties, the firm said, “advocated for an expansive view of the definition of antisemitism, which, if accepted in the university environment, could infringe on free speech principles and academic freedom.”
Roz Rothstein, director and CEO of StandWithUs, called the report summary “disappointing” and “self-serving” in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, but did not address its direct critique of her organization’s definition of antisemitism.
“While we had hoped that the GW administration would take this opportunity to begin remedying its pervasive antisemitism problem, its published ‘summary’ demonstrates that it intends only to persist in its course of disregarding the rights of its Jewish and Israeli students,” Rothstein wrote. She called on the university to release the report in full, saying some of its findings were “patently untrue.”
The university endorsed the findings. “After careful review, I believe the summary faithfully represents what the university learned through this third-party investigation,” George Washington University President Mark Wrighton wrote in a letter to the university community. He added, “Looking forward, we will continue to work closely with our community members as well as campus and national partners to best support our Jewish and Arab communities.”
Among StandWithUs’s more eye-catching allegations was that Sheehi had told an Israeli student, “It’s not your fault you were born in Israel.” While the investigation didn’t reference specific alleged quotes, it could not support any claims of antisemitic comments Sheehi had supposedly made in class. Sheehi’s alleged comments were “inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented,” the firm’s summary said, citing “those who had heard” the comments (a charge disputed by StandWithUs).
The second major allegation, concerning comments made by guest lecturer Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, could not be substantiated by a recording of the event, the summary found. It also concerned an event students were not required to attend — but even within this context, investigators said, Sheehi “repeatedly acknowledged the students’ feelings, gave the students space to express their concerns, and denounced antisemitism as a real and present danger. No student-interviewees recalled Dr. Sheehi denying that antisemitism exists or denying the students’ lived experiences.”
The findings ruled in Sheehi’s and the university’s favor on other points, too, noting that a Twitter account the professor had used in years past to decry “Israelis” and “Zionists” lay outside the purview of university discipline.
Sheehi did not respond to a JTA request for comment. In a published piece during the investigation, Sheehi accused her employer of having “colluded with StandWithUs’ misrepresentation of my classroom by being silent” about details of the allegations which she said the university could have disproven.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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