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US Court: Free Speech Does not Allow 'Intifada T-Shirts'

An Arabic public school principal who lost her job defending "Intifada" T-shirts, has now lost a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education.
By Avraham Zuroff
First Publish: 9/7/2009, 1:29 PM / Last Update: 9/8/2009, 5:43 AM

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A U.S. federal judge has confirmed that even freedom of speech has its limits. Last week, Judge Sidney H. Stein of Manhattan’s Federal District Court dismissed the case of a founding principal of an Arabic culture public school who was fired for defending “Intifada” t-shirts. Debbie Almontaser, the former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, claimed that her rights were violated.

In August 2007, Almontaser told the New York Post that the T-shirt wording “Intifada NYC” was sold by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, a woman’s group that she allowed to use her school facilities. She claimed that the Arabic word intifada means “shaking off”, and had nothing to do with the violent uprisings of Arabs within Israel in the 1980s and 1990s.

The principal "lost her shirt."

“The word basically means 'shaking off.' That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic. I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don't believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City. I think it's pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society ... and shaking off oppression,” Almontaser said in her interview.

Due to a “shake off” from complaining parents, the New York City Board of Education asked Almontaser to resign.

Shortly after her resignation, Almontaser sued the Department of Education, its chancellor, and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. She claimed that they not only violated her free speech rights, but also prevented her from regaining her job as a principal.

The Khalil Gibran International Academy is a public school in Brooklyn, New York City that opened in September 2007. It was the first public school to emphasize a curriculum of Arabic language and culture.

Daniel Pipes, a Middle East studies expert, objected to the school’s curriculum. “In principle it is a great idea – the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands,” Pipes wrote ahead of the school’s opening.

Pipes later revealed that Almontaser received an award from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and that the school was designed in part by the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC). CAIR is an Islamist group that the FBI has linked to funding the ourlawed Hamas terrorist organization.