Athletic trainer Natalie Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American Muslim, held a March 16 press conference in Philadelphia to announce the filing of a federal charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Agnes Irwin School (AIS).
Abulhawa alleges AIS wrongfully terminated her after just 10 days of employment in early November 2021, using nearly decade-old social media posts as a pretext.
The complaint was filed on Abulhawa’s behalf by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Philadelphia), whose attorneys addressed the press conference. CAIR noted that AIS did not terminate similarly situated employees not in Abulhawa’s protected class for their previous or recent social media posts.
The prestigious, private all-girls K-12 school hired Abulhawa as a full-time athletic trainer after interviews conducted by several school officials, including the Head of School Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. She went through multiple forms of vetting, including criminal background checks, fingerprinting and verification of employment, education and certification.
Abulhawa stated: “The [AIS] offer required that I leave a job I loved at an excellent school and with wonderful student-athletes. I made that sacrifice because of the incredible opportunity Agnes Irwin offered.”
On Nov. 1, 2021, the AIS Athletic Director informed Abulhawa that the school had received complaints from parents and faculty members because of a dangerously misleading profile published about her by Canary Mission, a known Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian hate website. She was given no opportunity to explain the nature of the widely discredited website and, after a short 10-minute meeting with Head of the School Sally Keidel, was told her employment was terminated immediately, based solely on the hate site content.
Abulhawa’s termination by AIS has damaged her career. She noted: “The athletic training community is small, and word gets around. Whereas I had no trouble getting a job before, I have been struggling to get interviews with prospective employers, despite a current shortage of athletic trainers. The harm to my reputation, finances, career and mental health has been enormous. I’ve been forced to reconsider my career path, including going back to school to develop another skill. I have been taking jobs as a freelancer, without the security of a salary, health insurance or other benefits.”
Canary Mission − website of hate
Jewish Voice for Peace condemns Canary Mission as a “malicious website that seeks to vilify principled activists for Palestinian human rights with targeted campaigns of misinformation, bigotry and slander. . . . Canary Mission targets students and faculty because they criticize Israel — not because they have expressed anti-Jewish bias.” (JVP statement, May 13, 2016)
The Intercept says the list’s damning profiles are “often based on quotes ripped out of context and wrongly conflate support for Palestinian human rights with support for violence or anti-Semitism.” (Nov. 22, 2018)
In its page on Natalie Abulhawa, Canary Mission listed social media posts she made in 2016 when she was in Palestine and witnessed Israel’s occupation firsthand. Other malicious “proof” used to discredit her was her membership in Students for Justice in Palestine at Temple University and the fact her mother is the distinguished Palestinian human rights activist and author Susan Abulhawa.
At the press conference Natalie Abulhawa pointed out: “The website which posted the misleading profile about me does not target actual racists or anti-Semites — such as neo-Nazis, KKK members or white nationalists. Most of its targets are students or individuals similarly vulnerable, with the intention of destroying their careers and livelihoods.”
Since first launched in 2015, Canary Mission has targeted over 2,000 individuals. However, it was Agnes Irwin which fired Abulhawa, not Canary Mission.
“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. AIS 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,” Abulhawa said.
“I am telling my story today so that Agnes Irwin, which purports to empower women, can be held accountable for the ways in which they demeaned, humiliated and harmed me. Institutions like this often do not hesitate to harm people like me, because we are perceived to have no power. Rather than behaving ethically and fairly, they chose to bow to the whims and xenophobia of funders.”
CAIR has launched a letter-writing campaign on Natalie Abulhawa’s behalf. The link to the letter being sent to Agnes Irwin is tinyurl.com/2s3t7ay2.