Almontaser Sues NYC Department of Education for Violating Free Speech
The ongoing saga of Debbie Almontaser’s ritual immolation on the altar of Jewish wingnuttery continues as she filed a lawsuit in federal court today seeking reinstatement as principal of the Khalil Gibran Academy, the nation’s first public school dedicated to teaching Arab culture.
You’ll recall that the New York Post, New York Sun, Stop the Madrassa and Campus Watch crowd were all baying for Almontaser’s blood and succeeded in railroading her into resigning from her job as founding principal. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein were willing participants in this charade though they perhaps had to be coaxed into axing Debbie.
A journalist friend of mine who attended the rally for her in front of the courthouse wrote:
Jews, Muslims, blacks, unionists came out for her. The Jews included Rabbi Rollie Matalon of B’nai Jeshurun, Michael Feinberg of something called Interfaith-Labor Alliance.
The NY Times quotes Rabbi Matalon’s affadavit filed in Almontaser’s support:
It was … particularly gratifying that a group of my colleagues signed a letter to the mayor and to the chancellor expressing our view that those who had attacked Ms. Almontaser did not represent the views of the mainstream Jewish community. … There are regrettable antecedents to the litmus test to which the press and the DOE subjected Ms. Almontaser, most notably in the regularity with which African-Americans are asked to denounce outspoken members of their community. The idea that there is only one acceptable view on issues of public concern is not only at odds with our constitutional guarantees, but is a perversion of the Jewish tradition of vigorous debate and discussion on all questions of importance to our people. … I hope that this court will remedy the great wrong that has been done to [Ms. Almontaser].
It’s important to note what was lacking. In the past, I’ve derided the organized Jewish community for permitting whackjobs like Stop the Madrassa to fill the vacuum and represent the Jewish community’s voice on this issue. New York’s Jewish leadership (Abe Foxman, David Harris, John Ruskay, etc.) has been strangely silent. There WAS one such figure though who until now had spoken out on Almontaser’s behalf, Rabbi Michael Paley, rabbi in residence for the New York UJA-Federation. Paley was quoted in Jewish Week and other publications speaking on her behalf and signed a petition for her published online as recently as September 30th. My journalist friend notes that Rabbi Paley was strangely absent today. I wonder why. Did someone tell him not to come?
And does one begin to notice a pattern here with the recent withdrawal, purportedly under donor pressure, of UJA-Federation sponsorship of the Other Israel Film Festival, which was dedicated to Israeli Arab cinema? Why haven’t the Forward, Jewish Week or JTA covered that story? Is there the acrid smell of Islamophobia wafting over UJA-Federation? If so, where is its source? Staff? Donors? Which specific individuals? Best to air out this foul odor in a public setting and let in some fresh air. Then maybe the Islamophobes will retreat back to their fear-filled lairs where they belong.
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Worth noting that Randi Weingarten, head of the powerful United Federation of Teachers, in a typical principled stance, first supported the school, and after the fuss about the T-shirt, opposed Ms. Almontaser’s being principal.
One of my favorite groups, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, have been outspoken in support of Ms. Almontaser and in organizing others to support her.