A lawsuit by the founding principal of an Arabic-language school in Brooklyn has been dismissed.
Debbie Almontaser, the former principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, claimed her constitutional rights had been violated in 2007. After a stormy controversy in the press involving her use of the word "intifada," Almontaser resigned in August 2007, before the school term began.
Soon afterward, however, she charged that she was forced to resign by the Department of Education (DOE). She began legal action against the Department of Education, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein in November of the same year.
The controversy began when Almontaser commented in a New York Post story about a T-shirt being sold in New York City with the word "intifada" by an Arabic women's organization with no connection to the school. She said the word had nonviolent origins and literally meant "shaking off."
Almontaser's comments set off a barrage of complaints to city officials. Especially critical were the Post, the now-defunct New York Sun and the Stop the Madrassa blog.
Almontaser, an experienced educator, was considered a religious liberal and had taken part in interfaith events with Christian and Jewish groups, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. Several Jewish groups and liberal rabbis defended her in the controversy.
Federal Judge Sidney Stein dismissed the case Tuesday, saying Almontaser made her statements as an administrator, not as a private citizen, and therefore wasn't similarly protected by the Constitution, according to the Associated Press.
Almontaser's lawsuit had a rather roundabout history, according to online sources. On Feb. 5, 2008, Almontaser requested that the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan grant a preliminary injunction to force the Department of Education to interview her for the position of principal at the school. On March 20, the Appeals court rejected her request and sent it back to the trial court.
She then filed an amended complaint in her federal lawsuit and a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, both of which charged that Department of Education officials discriminated against her on the basis of race, religion and national origin.
To many non-Muslim Americans, the word "intifada" conjures up images of the Palestinian stone-throwing First Intifada against the Israelis in the late 1980s and the second, more violent (on both sides) Second Intifada after peace talks broke down in 2000.