For Jewish graduate students taking a clinical psychology course at
George Washington University—the first of three in a required “diversity sequence”—it didn’t take long to realize that the instructor, Lara Sheehi, had no intention of keeping her obsessive hatred of Israel out of the classroom, even though Middle East politics had no bearing on the class’s ostensible subject matter. The students raised their concerns with the university and, when administrators proved unsympathetic, filed a formal Title VI complaint. Cary Nelson provides a detailed analysis:
By mid-November, the Jewish students learned that Sheehi had been disparaging them in faculty groups. . . . This escalated to an allegation that the students were racist. The result was that the students were subjected to disciplinary proceedings. Then matters became Orwellian. As the complaint specifies, “rather than provide the students with a statement of their offense, faculty have instead asked the students to describe to the faculty what they did wrong and what harm they caused.” This amounted to a forced confession, one with a built-in threat that they could be judged unsuitable to become therapists if they did not cooperate.
Sheehi’s antipathy toward the Jewish state permeates not only her teaching but also her academic work and social-media accounts. Turning to the former, and in particular the book Sheehi coauthored with her husband, Nelson demonstrates “the therapeutic perils of combining anti-Zionism with a social-justice agenda.”
There is a fundamental—and likely unresolvable—contradiction built into this agenda. The Sheehis’ political convictions lead them to see all Israelis, whatever their job titles, as undifferentiated, interchangeable agents of the occupation. In [one paper], she properly condemns the belief system that “collapses Islam into a monolithic entity with an essential potentiality for violence,” but she embraces that very prejudice regarding Israelis. The pressures psychoanalysis might exert toward individuation have no impact there. Similarly, both as victims of Israeli oppression and as avatars of “resistance,” Palestinians become interchangeable in [the Sheehis’] eyes.
[As a solution, the Sheehis] offer violence, not so much as a means to an end, even as a way to compel negotiation, but rather as the only valid form of Palestinian self-expression, one that traditional psychoanalysis aims to suppress. It begins with their effort to valorize suicide, a form of Palestinian violence against the self that they endorse. It is an extraordinary stand for clinicians to take.