Defending the use of the word “intifada” on a T-shirt has cost a New York City principal her job.
Debbie Almontaser, who was to be the principal of the city’s first public school dedicated to Arabic language and culture, stepped down Friday under fire. She was to lead the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a middle school scheduled to open this fall in Brooklyn.
The controversy began when Almontaser was asked a week ago by a newspaper about the phrase “Intifada NYC” that was printed on T-shirts sold by a group called Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media. The shirts are unrelated to the Gibran school.
“The word basically means ‘shaking off,’ ” Almontaser responded. “That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic.”
She apologized later, saying in a statement that she regretted her remarks.
“By minimizing the word’s historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence,” she said in the statement. The word has come to be associated with Palestinian attacks on Israel.
But Almontaser was rebuked two days later by the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, and newspaper headlines have continued to flame the controversy.