The Politics of Division

Lara Sheehi, Antisemitism, and Antiwhite Racism in the American Psychological Association

The newest scandal in psychoanalysis is the case of Lara Sheehi, assistant professor of clinical psychology at The George Washington University (GWU) and President of  Division 39 of the American Psychological Association (APA).  Sheehi is being accused of antisemitism, discrimination, harassment, and hate speech.  A non-profit, pro-Israel organization called StandWithUs (SWU) filed a federal civil rights complaint under Title VI with the Department of Education against GWU on behalf of Jewish and Israeli graduate students Sheehi had reportedly targeted in her mandatory diversity course.  The complaint was filed after the university failed to properly investigate numerous concerns the students had raised, hence compelling the psychology program and higher administration to intervene. 

After the story made international news, GWU has since opened an investigation on Sheehi’s alleged behavior who is now being legally defended by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) against SWU, and who are also castigating GWU for opening an investigation.  ADC claims that SWU is an anti-Arab racist organization, and that GWU is discriminatory against Arabs.  Here we may witness the familiar politics of division and the division of politics that pits Jews against Arabs. 

Outside her employment, Sheehi is accused of regularly advocating hate against Zionist Jews and Israelis on her Twitter account using vulgar language, which she has now deleted, and is said to even condone violence against Israeli citizens including death, as detailed in the complaint and various news sources.

Sheehi, who is Lebanese, openly supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, and therefore does not think that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.  Like her husband Stephen Sheehi, an endowed Chair and Professor of Arabic Studies at The College of William and Mary, who openly endorses Hamas, a militant terrorist organization that governs Gaza and preaches the death of Israel everyday, she has also shared this sentiment on her social media.   

Although one may have the academic freedom to support BDS and criticize Zionist and Israeli policies, as many Israeli Zionists currently do, her public contempt for Israel was bound to ruffle a few feathers of her students, colleagues, Jews, and those who do not support the Boycott.  

As shown, close inspection of her tweets reveals a plethora of gratuitous vulgarity that by civil standards are uncouth for a professional to make in public:  


Also: ACAB [All Cops Are Bastards] and fuck every oppressive knee, you motherfuckers are ALL the same.”

5:54 PM  9 May, 2021

In fact, she had over 3000 followers in 2023 before she dismantled her Twitter account after the SWU complaint.  Like the screenshots demonstrate, if you were to have randomly perused through her tweets before she deleted them you would have been immediately struck by her spate of profanity, effusive verbal aggression directed toward others, and unrestrained affect, condemnation, and rage.  

The breaking news article states: “Her social media is littered with anti-Semitic statements, where she slams all Israelis as ‘fucking racist’ and declares that it is ‘so fucking ridiculous how Zionism works . . . Destroy Zionism and commit to land back, then we’ll take you seriously you fucking genocidal fucks. Fuck you.’”  Screen shots of her tweets also confirm that they have been directed at the Israel Defense Forces.   

Here is the UN’s definition of hate speech:

To provide a unified framework for the United Nations to address the issue globally, the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech defines hate speech as…any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks  or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.”

As evinced by her tweets, she is clearly speaking at times about all Israelis and not just Zionists, although Zionists comprise most of the world Jewry.  And when you use inflammatory violent rhetoric such as “Destroy Zionism,” hence calling for the destruction of Israel, it is no wonder why she would incite backlash.  What would it be like for Jewish or Israeli students who had to take her mandatory diversity class after seeing such tweets, one that had no required readings in Jewish identity or antisemitism yet were required to self-disclose as an essential part of one’s grade?  How could she see Jewish patients or treat students fairly if they opposed her political views?   Further disturbing comments from the Sheehi’s are that all Zionists suffer from mental illness and are psychotic. If this is not anti-Jewish bigotry, I don’t know what else would reasonably qualify. 

Professor Sheehi should be given democratic due process and afforded the proper GWU proceedings to continue without outside influence or partisan political interference. She should not be cancelled, as this is only an affront to free speech.  But that does not mean her statements carry no consequences.  Sheehi has received widespread support from many groups, including those who advocate for the academic and cultural Boycott of Israel.  GWU Jewish alumni and an independent group of clinicians and scholars have organized an online petition to support the Jewish graduate students. In turn, the Palestine-global mental health network has also backed Professor Sheehi who serves on their board.  Jewish colleagues and students have also signed an open letter sent to GWU to support Sheehi.  These letters of support were further initiated by key political figures and senior clinicians who are or have currently served on the Board of Directors of the APA Division and are largely defending their friend and colleague, which by objective standards appears to be a palpable conflict of interest. In fact, the Division Board issued to the membership a statement of support defending Sheehi without having any privy to what transpired in her classroom. Here the politics of division within the APA Division are arguably designed to shelter and protect the president with little regard for the membership in general, especially given that many are Zionists and Jews who have objected to Sheehi’s online tirades and have called for her resignation.   

But what of her public tweets?  The APA Code of Ethics specifically prohibits the misuse of influence (Principle A), irresponsibility and failing to uphold professional standards (Principle B), harboring biases and condoning unjust practices (Principle D), and showing disrespect for people’s rights and dignity (Principle E). By making public media statements (Sec. 5.04) that are against Israelis, she is denouncing a whole nation rather than just a few bad actors.  And she also refers to herself online as a psychoanalyst when she does not have this qualification.  This is a direct violation of APA ethics—you cannot misrepresent your credentials to the public (Sec. 5.01). Given that psychologist and public intellectual Jordan Peterson is being disciplined for his tweets and could lose his license to practice by the College of Psychologists of Ontario, psychologists have a public duty to uphold the integrity and image of the profession. 

The APA Division claims she is entitled to free speech, and they moreover claim to have a duty to protect free speech as a political act with no mention of her tweets. But they further excuse an undisciplined use of “free association”—speaking whatever comes to mind without censoring your thoughts in verbal discourse or writing, even if it may be considered hateful: 

Psychoanalysis, as a profession and a philosophy, is grounded in the ethical conviction that free association is the bedrock of all freedom. We must be free to think, to speak, to write, to follow our minds where they lead as part of the work of pursuing the truth.

This statement embarrassing overlooks that free association is an unmediated stream of consciousness during the act of speech often driven by fantasies, complexes, and subjective relativism, as if truth and reality are whatever you say, write, or think it to be.  The Division furthermore makes no mention of how her aggrieved postings on social media discredit and bring dishonor and disgrace upon the profession. How could Dr. Sheehi be the face of an APA professional membership of thousands of people when she is so spiteful, rancorous, and prejudiced towards Israel and Jews?  Her online activity is completely discounted from consideration by the APA Division who categorically supports their friend and colleague.  

Furthermore, by supporting Sheehi, who does not believe Israel should exist, they have taken a politically partisan stance that exonerates Palestine over Israel—in other words, the Arab is favored over the Jew.  Here Hamas is given an unspoken salute by the APA.  Because the Board of the Division has adopted a political activist position on its APA listserv, it may be argued that it has violated the APA provision that all Divisions must remain apolitical in their communications.  Here the leaders of Division 39 should be held accountable for their lack of integrity.  They have not upheld their ethics that they willfully ignore.        

The conclusion tacitly assumed is that SWU is responsible for targeting Sheehi because it is tagged as a far-right ideological group, as if conservative political views are ipso facto illegitimate by virtue of being conservative.  Here the issue has shifted away from the students who claim to be discriminated against to the pro-Israel organization committing shenanigans, and the pro-Arab group now blaming GWU for opening an independent investigation against Sheehi, which it should do regardless of political affinities. But her public display of aggression and vulgarity on Twitter is the main issue here simply because she represents the public face of an organization that belongs to the American Psychological Association.  

Furthermore, there is no mention in the Division 39 Statement of the alleged conduct in question towards students other than it has nothing to do with the Division, or that we should give them some benefit of the doubt until an investigation is completed, as if the Division is willing to throw them under the bus without having access to all the facts.  By failing to address this directly, the Division seems to be lending credibility to the notion that this is all about Jewish persecution of an Arab professor, which is up to others to adjudicate.  Again, it bears repeating, there is no mention of the public tweets that bring the profession into disrepute.

Could you imagine a white professor tweeting profane obscenities against Muslims, transgendered people, or BIPOC populations?  They would lose their job in a second, if not commit career suicide.  Unlike Klaus Fiedler who was asked to resign his post as editor-in-chief of the prestigious journal Perspectives on Psychological Science after a black psychologist disdainfully claimed he was racist for inviting white reviewers to evaluate his article, the APA Division has chosen to defend its president as an Arabic woman who is perfectly entitled to publicly spew hatred towards Jews without consequence.  

In a recent article written by Carter Carter, the President of the Section on Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility and who is currently on the Division Board, goes on record to support his friend, Dr. Sheehi, once again, a salient conflict of interest, when he unabashedly blames Jews for becoming “white” and adopting an oppressive class structure that participates in the colonization of alterity.  Here Jews becoming white is the problem.  But Carter’s generalization that Caucasians are the bane of the profession is most problematic because it is an unequivocal expression of antiwhite racism.  He goes so far as to espouse some half-baked conspiracy theory that Sheehi is the victim of white supremacy including the field of psychoanalysis itself:  

there has been a near-total refusal to recognize that what has transpired is a large-scale effort by white people to doxx, hobble, humiliate, and banish the first woman of color to run Division 39, one of the largest psychoanalytic organizations in the world.  This is a mob of white people seeking to destroy a person of color and get away with it. 

How could the president of the Section on Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility be so irresponsible and prejudiced by lumping all white people and their various motives into a politically manufactured category based on the color of their skin?  The Division has obviously been captured by social justice ideology based on woke identity politics by advocating such antiwhite hostility.  Carter makes his points very clear:   

If psychoanalysis cannot fully countenance its own investment in Whiteness, it will die.  Its most luminous insights are those that shed light on dynamics of abuse, hatred, shame, and persecution.  These insights are most relevant to those of us with considerable personal experience with such things—people of color, queer people, poor people, disabled people, people at all kinds of margins and those who come near the margins to love us.  The Whiteness of professional psychoanalysis is absolutely noxious to us.  We might be the new life blood of this field, if Whiteness does not insist on segregating us out of the profession by being unsurvivably hostile to us.  We should be watching closely what happens to Lara to see if psychoanalysis might be capable of seeing the errors of its white ways and making room for the rest of us.

This is propaganda, not scholarship.  It further resembles cult indoctrination that violates empirical reality.  Who is being hostile to who? —an abstract hypostatization of white people?  Carter’s projection of his own distortions as grievance seeps all over the page.  There are no arguments or evidence offered whatsoever in such an undisciplined emotive protuberance that places feelings above fact and reality. The level of splitting, vitriol, and pitting people against each other based on the color of their skin and claiming victimhood is what is noxious, as it only vilifies, alienates, and promotes dysrecognition of otherness rather than encouraging dialogue, empathy, mutual recognition, and hospitality for alterity.   The tribalism of evoking “us” verses them without providing any proof that white psychoanalytic collectives have indeed acted in exclusionary ways toward minority identities is most egregious.  And this is a leader in the American Psychological Association?

The dog-whistle of identity politics has turned its ugly head where the norm has become an illiberal double standard that lumps all people into group categories based on race, color, gender, sex, ablism, and underrepresented intersectional identities while debasing white people, the hegemonic imperialist oppressors who are the cause of all injustice in the world.  In other words, anyone who is not white can point fingers and do no harm as they revel in abnegation of personal agency, denunciation, and rage for Whitey. We now live in a culture where somebody must become a designated whipping boy—the one to blame, so we can evade having to examine our own shortcomings or contributions to problems.  Perpetuating victimization culture only hurts us all.   

Dr. Sheehi has recently gone on record in her defense by claiming she is a victim of racism by SWU and GWU for initiating an impartial third-party investigation against her as a woman of color, as if this is unconscionable given the public scandal.  She has also disclosed that the Jewish and Israeli students in her class who have complained about her alleged mistreatment used “racist language against black people and Arabs,” and that she filed formal DEI bias incident complaints for “discriminatory and isolating tactics toward me by some colleagues.”   By her own account, it sounds like she has trouble getting along with her employer, students, and colleagues alike.  Her trivialization of the allegations against her, angry disregard for civilized discourse, transparent identity politics, and contempt for professionalism are summed up by the following quote:

As a junior colleague, a woman of color and a decolonial scholar of race and oppression, I categorically reject the civilizational and sexist discourse whereby language on my personal social media accounts is under paternalistic scrutiny and used as “evidence” of my guilt. The disciplining of language is an old misogynist cudgel by which Black, Indigenous, and women of color, especially, are expected to, at best, reply to racism, sexism, and xenophobia with a gentile [sic—notice the slip] and “civil” reply. If we do not, we are actively punished—in my case very publicly—for refusing psychological and physical boundary crossings. The discourse of “professionalism” is also used as a civilizational technique to imperiously shame women and people of color and is intentionally deployed as a disciplinary tactic to stabilize patriarchy and whiteness. Those in psychoanalysis, ironically, also willfully forget the sordid history our entire profession has had in silencing, pathologizing, and disciplining BIPOC women’s bodies and minds.

Is this the type of person who should run an APA organization?  First, her tweets are in the public domain and are not private or merely personal.  Second, she has not been silenced in the least bit given her brazen public display of contempt for anything Israeli, white, male, and Western including the discipline she is attempting to decolonize, as if that’s possible.  Third, to dismiss “professionalism” as an oppressive technique to shame and discipline BIPOC women by upholding patriarchy and whiteness is a non sequitur and a red herring that deflects warranted criticism against her.  Given that she belongs to a regulated health profession, she is not above critique, criticism, or discipline.  That is why it is crucial to have an impartial third-party investigation into the allegations so she is given a fair hearing and afforded the right to defend herself.  To suggest that the so-called “system” is rigged by misogynistic racist white men (as if no women serve in the professions), and that no professional should be subjected to inquiry by a governing body that regulates a profession or an employee’s behavior, is to claim to be beyond reproach or culpability.  This type of authoritarian righteousness as entitled epistemology to make aggrieved accusations by incriminating the professions is merely sophism in a new garb.     

The conspiracy we are supposed to believe is that everyone is out to get me because I am an Arab woman, as if her provocations, incendiary pubic comments, and anti-Zionist activism would not be offensive to Jewish students, colleagues, standards for professional decorum and conduct, and the profession itself she holds in contempt.  

The sophist tactic she employs is the double standard of favoring certain identities while vilifying others.  Sheehi’s response boils down to if you criticize me, you are racist.  You can be antiwhite, sexist towards men, and rebuke Western socialization practices with immunity, but if anyone questions a person of color with an intersectional identity to justify their words or behavior, you are cast into the lair of colonial fascism, a convenient trope to disrupt, obfuscate, and deconstruct the alleged power imbalances that are perpetrated by racist, misogynistic, capitalist, cisgendered, heteronormative, villainous white men.  The postmodern political strategy of making everything about race and identity under the rubric of critical social justice in no way absolves her of her personal actions and responsibility. Here we are led to believe that a woman of color can say and do anything without consequences.  

She has now made it public that the Jewish and Israeli students in question are racist, GWU is persecuting her by opening an investigation, and she does not have to be professional because this plays into sexist, paternalizing control over an Arab woman white Western society is trying to subjugate.  Her diatribe and unapologetic deluge of outrage by blaming all others may have jeopardized her legal case, as it shows an eclipse of reason and poor judgment, just like her Twitter outbursts, which raise their own ethical concerns.  She is likely building a wrongful dismissal case before the investigation even properly begins; and by attempting to insulate herself from any legitimate criticism by playing the identity card, she will guarantee being viewed as a martyr if she loses her case.  Out of respect for the diverse organizations she serves, she should recuse herself from her various roles until the investigation is over; or she should step-down if she is so contemptuous of professionalism and the professional standards she is supposed to uphold. 

By Jon Mills, a Canadian philosopher, psychoanalyst, and psychologist. He is Honorary Professor, Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex, UK, and author of over 30 books in philosophy, psychoanalysis, psychology, and cultural studies, including most recently, Psyche, Culture, World.

Leave a Reply