By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
Last November, Natalie Abulhawa, a young woman of Palestinian descent, was fired from her job as an athletic trainer at the Agnes Irwin School, a private all-girls school in a suburb of Philadelphia. The action was taken after a right-wing Zionist website had stirred up complaints against her pro-Palestinian views. This week, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed charges on Abulhawa’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The website, Canary Mission, charged that Abulhawa had posted several tweets that criticized Israel—all of them from over six years ago. For example, the website highlighted one tweet from 2016 that allegedly said, “Israel doesn’t have the right to exist.” On July 25, 2014, Abulhawa allegedly tweeted: “One day our children will be learning about the Palestinian holocaust, just like we learned about the Jewish holocaust.” The Canary Mission entry on Abulhawa also contained numerous diatribes against statements that it attributed to the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Temple University in Philadelphia, from 2014-2016. Abulhawa was a student at Temple soon after that period.
Natalie Abulhawa has complained, “They paint me to be a very violent and anti-Semitic person, which is very, very far from the truth” (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 18, 2022).
But the school did not give Abulhawa the opportunity to say anything in her defense. The school’s athletic director merely informed her that parents and faculty members had made complaints related to Canary Mission’s allegations. Soon afterward, she was called into a meeting with the head of the school, and told that her dismissal would be put into effect immediately.
In a statement released by CAIR, Natalie Abulhawa said: “It is unacceptable that Agnes Irwin treated me with such contempt and disrespect. Employment discrimination against Palestinian Americans and Muslim Americans is a real problem. Agnes Irwin School did not think twice before bulldozing my life, without even a pretense of due process. It only took a known hate site to profile me for them to derail my career. I am telling my story today so that Agnes Irwin School, which purports to empower women, can be held accountable for the ways in which they demeaned, humiliated, and harmed me.”
CAIR-Philadelphia Staff Attorney Timothy Welbeck and Attorney Ryan Allen Hancock said in a joint statement: “We allege the Agnes Irwin School unlawfully terminated Ms. Abulhawa’s employment because of her national origin, ethnicity, nationality and/or religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
“We call on AIS to do the right thing by first acknowledging and remedying the injustice Natalie Abulhawa faced and then instituting training mechanisms to address anti-Palestinian discrimination at AIS.”
Natalie Abulhawa’s mother, novelist and longtime activist Susan Abulhawa, issued the following statement in an appeal for solidarity: “I’ve always been proud of my daughter, but I am especially proud of her right now. Her life was utterly derailed in November by a xenophobic employer who hired her, then fired her within days based on a misleading profile of her curated by a shadowy anti-Palestinian Islamophobic hate site. We kept it quiet, trying to reach out to the school privately. But they acted in such a way that communicated contempt, arrogance, and dismissal, leaving her with only two choices: (1) seek remedy through the courts or governing bodies, thereby putting her name and face in public view, which would further damage her chances of ever being hired again; or (2) do nothing and continue seeking and hoping for alternative employment despite the damage to her reputation.
“My daughter chose to fight back. She chose to risk more damage to her career in order to stand on principle to help put a stop to this Zionist bullying industry that continually harasses Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists in order to intimidate them into silence.”
Canary Mission is linked to ultra-right Zionist groups and individuals operating in Israel. The website promotes its role as compiling dossiers on “individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel, and Jews on North American college campuses.” Its list contains information on thousands of students and professors.
The Jewish Forward calls it a “shadowy online blacklist.” The newspaper reported that the Israeli non-profit organization linked to the website, Megamot Shalom, is run by former employees of Aish HaTorah, a right-wing Orthodox Jewish group. One of the board members of Megamot Shalom, according to The Forward, is Rabbi Ben Packer, who has distributed the literature of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose party was outlawed for racism in 1988. Packer says he is a friend of Stephen Miller, the far-right advisor to Trump when he was U.S. president.
Canary Mission has targeted members of Students for Justice in Palestine on many campuses, as well as other campus activists, often getting them fired from jobs, wrecking their opportunities to gain further employment, and subjecting them to frequent harassment. Both the FBI and Israel have also made use of the group’s blacklist in order to discover and interrogate activists for Palestinian rights. Israel has deported some activists who on are on the Canary Mission list while refusing entry into the country to others.
The Philadelphia chapter of CAIR has set up a letter-writing campaign on Natalie Abulhawa’s behalf. To learn the facts of the case and/or to send a letter to Agnes Irwin School, her former employer, please go this link:
SIGN: Petition Calling AIS to Apologize to Natalie: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/apologize-to-natalie-remove-anti-palestinian-bias-from-agnes-irwin-school