Ousted Principal Responds

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Debbie Almontaser is the former head of Khalil Gibran International Academy, New York City's first Arabic-language public school. She's currently seeking reinstatement as principal in the wake of controversy surrounding the school's curriculum.


Debbie Almontaser

Comments [92]

Edward from Washington Heights - AKA pretentious "Hudson Heights"

In the first part of the 20th century millions of immigrants came to the US speaking languages other than English.

These people, WITHOUT special programs like ESL, learned, excelled and contributed greatly to the US.

Why can't modern day immigrants do as well?

There shouldn't be publicly funded foreign culture specific schools. Learn English and American history FIRST. Later grades learn FOREIGN language and history.

ESL builds bureaucracies and handicaps children.

May. 28 2008 12:49 PM
Carol Horwitz from Brooklyn, NY

MOTY -- Khalil Gibran International Academy is named for an Arabic poet who was Christian. KGIA is not a "Muslim" School. The children who attend KGIA are primarily Christian, and their parents sent them to this school to learn Arabic. The reason? The demand for Arabic speaking Americans is overwhelming and cannot be met at this time. Please get your facts staight. This kind of thinking is what prevents peace from happening.

May. 14 2008 04:20 PM
Moty from Kensington

I second you, Megan of Park Slope.
We need to make sure that 'madrasas' (muslim schools) in the US do not teach the hate, as they do (antisemitism) in many of the Arab and Palestinian schools.
This is still going on after they signed in the peace accords with Israel, to stop those practices.

May. 14 2008 08:57 AM
Kate from South Bronx (work)/Croton on Hudson (home)

As a Teach For America Corps member currently teaching bilingual students, I was drawn to Brian's question about the value of dual culture/dual language initiatives in the public schools. There is a fair amount of research suggesting that if we help foster native-language literacy and culture, students will actually do better in English than they would in an immersion or acculturation setting. See the following texts for a more in-depth discussion of these issues:

"Teaching Reading and Writing in Spanish and English in Bilingual and Dual Language Classrooms" by Yvonne and David Freeman

"The Skin That We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom" by Lisa Delpit

As a literacy specialist working with K-3 students in their native Spanish in the Bronx, I felt it imperative to say something.

May. 10 2008 08:10 PM

Thank you Brian for revealing some of the issues surrounding this sad story.
I know you had to say some of that crap and you sounded a little prejudice, but it all the garbage and misconceptions about this woman and the school had to be addressed.
Great Interview.

It is a difficult world where politics are above education. If you look at the history of NYC school principles and the things they were accused of or the crimes they committed.
No one has received such treatment before they even stepped foot inside the school.
Its a shame that we have to live in such a disgusting world.

Good luck lady.

May. 08 2008 11:40 PM
Rosemarie from Manhattan

Brian Leher & NPR's bias is so obviously against Debbie Almonstaser--Why w/over 80 comments is this segment is it not listed on WNYC's home page of most comments? And why dosn't WNYC get a reporter to give fair and balanced show on this issue?

May. 08 2008 06:50 PM
Carol Horwitz from Brooklyn, NY

to Marc Harlan; No religion of any kind has been or is being taught at Khalil Gibran International Academy. The school's curriculum is posted on their website. Anyone is welcome to call the school and make an appointment to see classes in session, and precisely what books are being used. this is a PUBLIC school,, open to the public as long as classes are not disrupted. WAKE UP people. Use you own common sense to check the facts for yourself. Go to the school, speak to the parents, speak to the teachers, look at the books. Debbie has never dodged any questions about her religion or her abhorance of violence. Christians have the most violent history of any religion -- rounding up Jews during the crusades, anti semitism for centuries, -- yet no one asks Christians to talk about Christian violence.

May. 08 2008 03:31 PM
Self Righteous, Ignorant Bigots Worldwide

"Chris O" (#65)


And please continue with your important work.

May. 08 2008 12:19 PM
Marc Harlan from New Jersey

Similarly, whether the Principal advocates radicalism and unlawful conduct is quite important when the focus of that unlawful activity overlaps with the theme of the school she oversees. No one would want the princial of a school to openly advocate for rioting by the student body. Almontaser was quite aware that "Intifada" is chiefly construed in this contry as referring to the violent actions taking place in the West Bank and Gaza whose underlying reason by some (eg Hamas) is the destruction of the State of Israel. Ms. Almontaser's refusal to make clear rejection of unlawful conduct given this nexus does merit her re-assignment to another administrative positon as was done here.
Yet, rather than simply state that she advocates lawful behavior she dodges the question thus leading those of open minds to raise critical questions.

May. 08 2008 11:07 AM
Marc Harlan from New Jersey

Many of these comments miss the point as does Ms. Almontaser herself.

Whether or not the school teaches Islam relegion and/or radicalism through the cirriculum is relevant to whether the school should be funded at all. In my experience, there is quite a bit of intrusion of Islam into Arabic teaching materials by virtue of their origin in the Middle East such that one needs to be vigilant given our policy of strict division of Religion and State. (This also holds true for Hebrew language materials and was a reason that the state of Florida did not approve for an extended period a hebrew language school in Broward County. This observation is NOT an anti-moslem posture.)

May. 08 2008 11:07 AM
Kollin, Meehan, Vaccaro, Aviles, Ericsen from Queens, NY

Khalil Gibran was not a Muslim, he was a Christian poet and reformer. Using his name was just a clever way to get public monies to support their school. What is next should we abide by Sharia Law in Public Schools? We are a nation of legal immigrants and have mixed and assimilated not the other way around. Ask Arabs or Muslims who Khalil Gibran was, they won't know who he was simply because he was Christian. This women saying how there are Christians in the Muslim world etc. was a real joke. There are small groups of Armenians that fled the Turkish Genocide and Coptics but they are third class citizens.Since we have a seperation of Church and State in America, why are we letting religious group that shares none of our equal, civil or human rights be allowed to have a public school?Especially a culture that has a long history of violence and terror on eachother(200,000 murdered in Algeria by Islamists, 2 million Armenians by the Turks) Saudi ARabia created madrassas and the Taliban. Name a Muslim nation that is open,free,fair,clean, modern and not barbaric, impoverished and bigoted on all levels? Their leaders live in Golden decadent kingdoms from oil revenues. Why aren't Muslim nations beacons of modernity, cleanliness, civility and love for all the world to see? Instead, they blame the west and Jews to keep their people from overthroughing them. They marry very young girls which is pedofilia,we going to allow that too?

May. 07 2008 07:35 PM
mc from Brooklyn

Carol #79 You spoke my mind.

Edward, her connection to that group was tangential at best. She explained it on the air. Maybe you missed it.

May. 07 2008 03:44 PM
Freeman Hubbard from Manhattan

In the 4th grade, my teacher assigned my class a project. "Write an essay about one of your experiences." I had decided to write about my recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey. It was definitely a memorable experience. After she had read our papers I was called out. She told me that I was incapable of writing such a piece, I was going to be forced to rewrite my essay because of her xenophobic and personal biased views of the world. I wrote of the mosque I had visited with my father and the rich cultural history. I was castigated and ridiculed gratuitously to the point of tears in front of my classmates. However when she was confronted by my father, I no longer had to write my essay. Now at 16 I have been studying Chinese for 2 yrs. and in a post 9/11 world how can people better themselves to become global citizens, when your rights are abridged?

May. 07 2008 03:42 PM
Carol Horwitz from Brooklyn, NY

Edward from Washington Heights -- she never ever defended the words "Intifada NY". She was asked for a definition of the word "Intifada", and she gave the dictionary definition. The rest of her remarks had to do with how the word has come to symbolize violence, and how she never would nor has she ever supported violence in any form. But you didn't hear or read that part of her remarks because the NY Post edited them out. However, a media person from the Department of Education was on the telephone with Debbie and the Post reporter, and testified in Court that Debbie most assuredly said she condoned violence in any form. Second, in case you don't know, confederate flags are sold all over NYC and this Country with all kinds of racist sayings on them, and so far, I don't know of one person or newpaper that has said a word about that.

Debbie was treated dispicably by the Mayor and Chancellor Klein. But she will soon have her day in Court where she is suing for violation of her first amendment rights and blatant discrimination. May she be awarded $50,000,000 --- that is the only way this City learns anything. It is a "smack in the head with a 2 by 4" when NYC has to payout large sums in lawsuits for its illegal discriminatory behavior. Carol

May. 07 2008 03:37 PM
megan from Park Slope

Unfortunately, the main reason for KGIA's dismal failure is that the school is riddled with secrecy from the curricula down to the faculty. IF the school had a problem-free agenda, the founders wouldve been forthcoming.

Hiding under the cover of multi-culturalism or another language school ultimately just doesn't work.

The shame is exposure to other cultures and languages is very important for our youth. But this school is a very poor vehicle for that.

May. 07 2008 03:24 PM
Edward from Washington Heights - AKA pretentious "Hudson Heights"

mc, apparently I was wrong in believing that she wore the Intifada NYC T-shirt to school, but she certainly defended the idea behind the T-shirt.

Shaking off???

Would you be comfortable with a street fair selling T-shirts with a bullseye over the WTC, Confederate Flag NYC? I wouldn't.

And she has a documented connection to the "activist" group behind it.

May. 07 2008 03:16 PM
megan from Park Slope

This is weird -- here's the list of members of the Advisory Board of a school that is supposed to be a secular public school:

Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter, Old First Reformed Church; Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Abyssinian Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Charles H. Straut Jr., The Riverside Church; Rev. Khader N. El-Yateem, Salem Arabic Lutheran Church; Rabbi Andy Backman, Congregation Beth Elohim; Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Rabbis for Human Rights; Rabbi Micah Kelber, The Bay Ridge Jewish Center; Lisel Burns, Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture; Imam Talib Abdul-Rashid, Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Harlem; Imam Shamsi Ali, 96th St. Mosque, Manhattan; and Imam Khalid Latif, Chaplain, NYPD.

May. 07 2008 03:12 PM
mc from Brooklyn

She did not wear the T-shirt.

May. 07 2008 02:33 PM
Brian from Forest Hills, NY

"What if everyone interviewed for a job was considered based on their feelings about whites, African Americans, Jews, Germans, Southerners...."

I would never want a teacher or principal who did not believe those groups did not have the right to exist. Would you?!?

I hate the current administration, but I believe that USA has the right to exist.

How hard is this?!?

May. 07 2008 02:21 PM
megan from Park Slope

Chris O - before you make sweeping statements that Jews are not downtrodden financially (evoking classic anti-Semitic canards about Jews and wealth) - you should spend at a least a few minutes educating yourself.

Fully 145,000 of New York City's Jews are so poor that they are eligible for government programs. At the same time, government programs are disappearing and the barriers to entitlement grow larger by the day.

To be classified as poor by government standards, a family of four must have a combined household income below $16,050!

Another 275,000 New York City Jews are classified as near-poor. Ironically, the near-poor are often worse off than the poor. They are not entitled to government benefits. Yet $16,050 for a family of four does not consider the cost of housing in New York, or kosher food or day school education.

The Jewish poor have much in common with the general poor. Like most poor people, they are hungry, inadequately sheltered and can suffer from every known medical and emotional illness.

Now, what were you saying "Chris O"?

May. 07 2008 02:15 PM
Edward from Washington Heights - NOT pretentious "Hudson Heights"

Jon P. #66

"Brazil is a country that only came about because Spain made it so."


Where did you go to school?

Hint: Try a country west of Spain.

May. 07 2008 12:57 PM
lh from Manhattan

to #65:
The people of Israel have worked very hard against adversity to achieve economic success and to make technological, medical and cultural contributions that benefit the whole world. The Arab countries and Palestinian leaders have preferred to keep the Palestinians in an abject state of "victimization". The checkpoints have helped to prevent suicide bombers from blowing themselves up in buses and crowded public places, where even Arab-Israeli citizens get killed.

As for influence in the U.S., the Arab interests have much more money and influence. Remember how the Bin Laden family was flown out of here after 9/11, when all other planes were grounded? Note the close relationship between Prince Bandar and George Bush. Note the penetration of Arab-funded professorships and chairs of Middle East studies departments in U.S. colleges and high school textbooks.

May. 07 2008 12:55 PM
Edward from Washington Heights - NOT pretentious "Hudson Heights"

Would it be all right if former NYC school principal Debbie Almontaser wore a T-shirt with a Confederate flag? No.

Or if during WW2 a principal wore a T-shirt with an SS logo on it? No.

The "NYC Intifada" T-Shirt has proven that she is unqualified to be a principal of a New York Public School due to her insensitivity in post-9/11 America.

I wish Brian or a caller asked her who hijacked 4 planes on 9/11. A “9/11 Truther” would be disqualified to be principal as well.

Will Debbie Almontaser disown wahabbist mosques in the US as Barak Obama disowned his former pastor Reverend Wright?

May. 07 2008 12:53 PM
Raine from Queens

No, Sally, the point is that it's hard to imagine the principal of a Spanish themed school refusing to agree that yes, Brazil (one of the places in Latin America where Spanish is not the dominant language/culture) does have the right to exist as a sovereign nation.

You're correct that no one would ask such a silly question. As someone said above, Israel is the only UN recognized country whose right to exist is commonly questioned.

May. 07 2008 12:44 PM

If we really embrace multi-culturalism, let's have Arabic and Islamic culture taught in public schools for all children to benefit. (This is starting to happen & is the position of the KGIA opposition groups). Children attending the KGIA school are being denied a multi-cultural education. What is the value of an isolated insulated public education? to the children? to our society? Why would taxpayers endorse this kind of education? America is about Latino, Cuban, Middle East, Italian, Spanish, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, French, Russian, Asian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Puerto Rican, St. Lucien (etc) kids all sit side by side and appreciate each other.

May. 07 2008 12:39 PM

why doesn't this school just open its doors and have concerned citizens listen and learn? Why does this principal instead accuse these citizens of being rascist? Just open your doors.

May. 07 2008 12:28 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ


Asking Spain if Brazil has the right to exist? Why? Brazil is a country that only came about because Spain made it so, not because Brazilian people wanted to form a country. The country Brazil never even existed before Europeans came over and whipped out most of South America. Same applies to Dominican Republic.

So should we ask Jewish principals if they support Ultra Orthodox Jews beliefs that anyone who is not Ultra Orthodox Jew should die? Of course not….

May. 07 2008 12:09 PM
Chris O from New York

I have to fight a tendency to become anti-Semitic. I am for the downtrodden, the abused, the oppressed. And Jews are NOT in this category. Although many of the leading defenders of the downtrodden and oppresses are Jews - YAY. And I have Jewish friends, and many of my favorite public people are Jewish (like Brain Lehrer etc. etc.).

In fact, with Israel, they are decidedly the oppressor, the thugs, the wealthy cool guys with sunglasses abusing and humiliating the poor masses at checkpoints etc. And in our society, they have enormous influence and wealth. You'd have to be willfull blind to ignore this. But you are anti-Semitic if you observe it.

May. 07 2008 12:06 PM
Kathy from Glen Cove, NY

I'm on Ms. Almontaser's side.

I'm astonished that her views on Israel somehow factor into her effectiveness as a principal.

Ridiculous. When is someone going to develop a backbone about the rights of Muslims separate from the rights of Israel? What if everyone interviewed for a job was considered based on their feelings about whites, African Americans, Jews, Germans, Southerners, the Bible, the war, the administration, Democrats, Republicans, etc.? No one would ever be hired for any position.

Unless her presence somehow placed everyone in the school in danger, her dismissal was unwarranted.

May. 07 2008 12:03 PM
Sally from Alphabet City

Raine- NO ONE WOULD ASK THE PRINCIPAL OF A SPANISH LANGUAGE OR CREOLE LANGUAGE SCHOOL IF THEY SUPPORTED THE RIGHT OF BRAZIL OR THE D.R. TO EXIST! That's the point: Ms. Almontaser is being singled out because she is Arab and Muslim. Period. Many think that's ok, because they think Arabs and Muslims are dangerous threats who should be singled out and interrogated about a host of political views. I do not think it's ok to do so. Many think it's ok to interrogate the founder of a Arabic-English dual language school because the school might indoctrinate students in anti-American views. Many of us think that is insane bigotry and ignorance, plain and simple. By the way, Brazil and the D.R. have not exactly played the same role in global history as Israel!

I'm really disappointed in Brian today. I listen to the show every day and am such a big fan, but lately he's been letting these anti-Arab sentiments through and equating Muslims with anti-Semites. I think he needs to check back in with fair, secular politics.

May. 07 2008 12:02 PM
Diane Kirschner from Brooklyn, NY

I really appreciate your show Brian. What surprised me today were two things:
1) that no appreciation for Ms. Almontaser's activism was acknowledged. How many citizens are only concerned with their own wellbeing and don't engage on a civic level to improve the quality of others' lives? Ms Almontaser has made herself available as a speaker and bridge builder over the years, besides her work in the educational system and her roles as parent and wife.
2) what is the significance of members of her community being upset because the ADL supported her? She is not able to control other people's reactions to her - be they positive or negative. If she were, would she not still be the principal? She is only able to stand up with integrity for what she believes and hope that others will seek to fully understand her intentions.

I have walked with Debbie at the annual Children of Abraham march in Brooklyn. I have listened to her speak about her life and culture in attempts to build understanding. I have seen her build relationships with people of many cultural and religious backgrounds in an attempt to create a better society for all. I am of Jewish ethnicity and I think she, as she said, is being held to a different standard than others and that she deserves recognition for all the positive work she has done and not just attention to this controversy which is based on people's fears and not on the realities on the ground. Thank you.

May. 07 2008 11:57 AM
Daniel from nj

Leave the lady alone. If she has her opinions, that's okay. The key is that she is able to separate her beliefs from her professional duty to NYC's kids. Seems to me the school offers a great opportunity to open paths of communication between communities. I do agree that any groups known to spout hate should be excluded from the school. The school should offer an outlet for expression of arab culture, hopefully robbing hate groups of potential recruits. If the school is allowed to raise kids in a positive environment, they will produce individuals who are proud of their ethnic backgrounds, of their city and of their country. As it is now, this uproar cannot be helping in this regard.

And don't we need arab speakers? Today and into the future?
As New Yorkers, we ought to behave in a little more mature manner.

Disclosure: I'm an agnostic jewish supporter of Israel and I am in favor of a two state solution (don't ask me how that will happen, but I'll just keep my eyes on the prize.)


May. 07 2008 11:56 AM
Brian from Forest Hills, NY

"What would you think if the principal of a Spanish language/culture school who wouldn't say whether they supported the right of Brazil to exist? Or the principal of a Haitian Creole school who wouldn't answer questions about the Dominican Republic?"

I would have no problem with those questions.

Does every country recognized by the UN have the right to exist? Why is that question hard to answer? Why is it wrong?

May. 07 2008 11:54 AM
Rosemarie from Manhattan

Brian your show is normally fair, however you seem to have fallen to the hype of Daniel Pipes and his Campus Watch group, a national group that scrutinizes Middle Eastern programs at colleges/public venues. The whole purpose of this group is drive or stop anyone who wants to have fair discussions on the Israel-Palestian issue. If you are not against Arabs or the Palestians Mr. Pipes and his group will make sure to undermine any rational points of discussion, to the point of even undermining professors bid's for tenure.

Mr. Pipes is the one responsiblile for using the term "Madrass" before he even knew exactly what was going on w/Ms. Almontaser. He knew full well that this was an incitful word & didn't want to bother to get the full facts. Even going as far as mis quoting Ms. Almontaser by leaving out half of her quote to suit his hate making needs Mr. Pipes is a racist in the true sense of the word (and so is his organization).

My father was in a German prison camp. We should learn from our past that hate doesn't help. Racisim in any form should not be tolerated. We need to have open dialogue and support educators that present fair and balanced views and FACTS.
I would also suggest you read the excellent New York Times article of Monday April 28th by Andrea Elliott to get the full balanced story and not just sensational sound bites.

May. 07 2008 11:54 AM
Sarah from Queens, NY

If we are opening the floor to ridiculous questions such as "Do you believe Israel has a right to exist?" then I guess we should allow the following as well: "Do you believe that descendants of slaves deserve reparation?" or "Do you believe that Native Americans have a right to take back part of the United States and make it their own country?"

I think we can all see the can of worms in this case.

May. 07 2008 11:51 AM
Raine from Queens

"it IS reasonable to ask for her opinion on Israel because she is the principal of a school centered on Arab culture."

Why? Israel is a theocracy. Her employer asking questions relating to religion is illegal.
Asking questions about how her views might influence curricula is not illegal.

What would you think if the principal of a Spanish language/culture school who wouldn't say whether they supported the right of Brazil to exist? Or the principal of a Haitian Creole school who wouldn't answer questions about the Dominican Republic?

May. 07 2008 11:48 AM
Sally from Alphabet City

Raine - Only someone completely ignorant about the Arab world--its peoples, its nations, its arts, its culture, and its history--would suggest that an Arabic-English dual language school's leader must have a public position for or against Israel. And the reality is, you want her to say she supports Israel wholeheartedly. Only a pro-Israel position would satisfy Zionists who find the school questionable. It is so ludicrous that an Arab can only fulfill a leadership role in education if she never speaks out against the violent oppression of Palestinians (which Ms. Almontaser hasn't) and only if she is some kind of mythical being who has never had a criticism of either the U.S. or Israel's policies!

May. 07 2008 11:46 AM
margret ardilla from nyc

"The November 27 letter from a group of Rabbis to Mayor Bloomberg has it in a nutshell! " Oh, yes... the support of cop-killer "Mumia" and Weatherman Bommber, William Ayers, only adds to solid the reasons why the team behind the creation of KGIA are of serious concern.

May. 07 2008 11:46 AM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ


Sounds like you want to round up all the Muslims and send them to Canada (to put it nicely). There’s 2 amendments in the constitution that are probably the 2 most important ones and they can’t exist without each other. Church and state must remain separate and freedom of religion. You just can’t have one without the other. There are 8 million legal Muslims in America. Hardly a take over taking place in a country of 300 million…. Who are these Muslims going to convert? Christians? Way to much Muslim hate and gun ownership for that to ever happen…

To much caution can be very damaging. It could very easily undermine freedom of religion. After that, down goes church and state must remain separate. Then, welcome your new ruler, Pat Robertson….

May. 07 2008 11:45 AM
Brian from Forest Hills, NY

What about a simple question of does every country recognized by the UN have a right to exist?

Can anyone name a country today where people are saying that it does not have a right to exist other than Israel?!? I ask that as a question and not a statement.

May. 07 2008 11:44 AM
margret ardilla from nyc

Ms Almontaser was a teenage mother, I understand. 16 or 17. What advice would she give young women today ...regarding education and motherhood.

May. 07 2008 11:44 AM
DB from NY

Almontaser would make a great principal for an Islamic or Muslim or Arabic PRIVATE school. Not one of the critics (and I am a muslim!!!!) argued that we muslims cannot have our own private schools. All they have said is that public schools MUST INTEGRATE not SEGREGATE; must teach us to be good AMERICANS not citizens of the world! What is a citizen of the world? Who is going to defend muslims? Syria's Assad? King Faud? Jordan's Abdullah?

Are you kidding? We've run away from "Arab" and "Muslim" societies because they are oppressive and hateful with Shariah and violence as a way of life. Name me one Muslim run country you as a muslim would wish to live in rather than America!

And, now Almontaser creates a public school to embrace that "culture"? I want to teach my children, all 7 of them, to be good American citizens, good and peaceful muslims even as Shariah -- the law of Islam -- says that I am an infidel because I reject the superiority of Islam and Shariah!

Stop playing games. And, the rabbis and preachers who cry for CAIR and almontaser are simply being fooled. SHARIA would enslave them or kill them first.

May. 07 2008 11:43 AM
Isa Kocher from DeBruce NY

The hate speech directed at this educator is racist and sectarian and chauvinist is beyond comprehension. To equate Arabic as a language with the KKK is pure unadulterated hate, there is no excuse for it. Arabs are Orthodox Christian, Xoroastrian, Jain, Roman Catholic, Sephardic, Commununist, atheist, theist, Anglican, Lutheran, Zen Buddhist, and evry possible variation on them. Racism is always a lie.

The people who forced her firing say outright that they are against her solely for the reason she is an Arab and believes in peace between people. It is worse than criminal.

Hiding behind one's Jewishness as an entitlement to hate is an insult to Judaism, to Americanism, to humanity. It is shameful, obscene and a sin on the graves of the victims of the Holocaust, and a sin on the graves of US martyrs in WWII and all our wars.

I am a 100% service connected disabled veteran and I did not sacrifice my life for my country to see educators crucified by hate.

May. 07 2008 11:39 AM
Chris from NJ

YouGov questioned 526 British Muslims online between 15th and 22nd July 2005.

6% supported the bus/subway bombings in London and 6% weren't sure.


May. 07 2008 11:38 AM
mc from Brooklyn

Agreed. As a principal (originally a principal was a "principal teacher") she was trying to educate people about the origin of a word that most people don't really understand.

May. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Alan Gold from UES

"it IS reasonable to ask for her opinion on Israel because she is the principal of a school centered on Arab culture."

Why? Israel is a theocracy. Her employer asking questions relating to religion is illegal.

May. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Carl Gage from Stamford, CT

This woman is a saint. We desperately need more people like her to nuture cross cultural understanding, and eventually, respect and affection. I am a white Christian who takes my spirituality seriously. I am deeply distressed that radical elements of the Jewish community are trying to undermine her outstanding work. Mayor Bloomberg should look into this situation and make it "right". God, who is the God of all of us, is in fact, great. I only wish we mortals would listen and recognize his presence when he is working through us, as he is through this excellent lady.

May. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Dan from new york


I just heard you ask this lady (possibly a repeat of a callers question) why teach arab culture and not ku klux klan culture. I.m kind of shocked that you could call the behavior of a nasty fringe group a culture and place it on the same level as an a culture spread across many naons

May. 07 2008 11:36 AM
Mikaela from Chelsea, NY

I have a real problem with the guy who called in and talked about being anti- the Khalil Gibran International Academy as a part of our responsibility to support Israel, our supposed "greatest ally." Israelis don't like the US any more than anyone else in the world does these days, they merely "appreciate" the billions of dollars we give them every year.

May. 07 2008 11:35 AM
Jarad Astin from Brooklyn - PS 282

Just want to clarify some of the situations regarding this school - there was quite a bit of opposition at its inception, but not much due to anti-islamic sentiment. My daughter attends PS 282, the initial proposed location of the Kahlil Gibhran school. I was one of the parents protesting the school, and know most of the others that were heavily involved as well - the main opposition in this case was a lack of communication from the District, as there was no proper communication to the school. The district just tried to force the issue, and fast. As we all know, there are MANY difficiencies in the NYC school system, and more effort needs to be put into the schools and teachers that are in place - as much as i would love to see more varied opportunities for education, NYC can't even maintain the bare minimums in most cases.
As for the reasoning for the loss of your job - I would have suggested at the time that you be much more vocal in the press and blogs not only distancing yourself from the intifada issue, but publicly denouncing any and all justifications for the word being on a t-shirt. You knew that there was a loose association between yourself and that group, and should have jumped on it right away - the media can't be trusted for honesty in most cases. I am an educator myself, and that is the reality of the responsibility we take on. good luck to you,

May. 07 2008 11:34 AM
Morgan from New York (Financial District)

Thank you, Ms. Almontaser, for your perseverance and your courage. Your struggle and the abandonment of your support groups demonstrates both the shame of the country and the ability of individuals to transcend it. I hope some day we can embrace all cultures and beliefs without resorting to hate and violence.

May. 07 2008 11:32 AM
Raine from Queens

While it's true that it would not fair to ask Ms. Almontaser to share her views on Israel's right to exist simply because she is a Muslim, it IS reasonable to ask for her opinion on Israel because she is the principal of a school centered on Arab culture.

May. 07 2008 11:32 AM
DM from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

* Ms. Montaser is dodging the toughest questions and with good cause: There shouldn't be a Zionist litmus test for the daily conduct of American governance, education and public administration. I support an Israel that obeys international law. I don't support a tiny fringe from this tiny state wagging the American dog.

* If the ADL's endorsement isn't good enough for Ms. Almontaser's critics, nothing will ever be good enough.

May. 07 2008 11:31 AM
RCTB from Westchester

I find the McCarthyite tactics employed against this principal deplorable. The caller who asked Ms. Almontaser whether Israel had the right to exist demonstrated the bad attitude of some right-wing supporters of Israel, who apparently believe that anyone who does not share their extremist views may be made the object of professional and character assassination, and that a willingness to understand Arab culture suggests anti-semitism.

The school had the backing of Mayor Bloomberg and Ms. Almonstaser is a respected educator. Is it really true that one cannot be an Arab and a Muslim educator, or support a position of Arab culture that is politically neutral, without being destroyed by the media and abandoned by the political establishment and Department of Education?

May. 07 2008 11:31 AM

MC, Thanks. I think it is that she is a principal (that has certain responsibilities) not that she is arabic...

May. 07 2008 11:31 AM
mc from Brooklyn

She did not endorse the T-shirt. This is the smear. She answered a question by a NY Post reporter as to the meaning of the word "intifada."

May. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Brian from Forest Hills, NY

I always get suspicious of people who either don't or refuse to answer questions. Why can't she simply answer questions?

Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton have had to answer questions that no one had to answer before, but they did.

The fact that she refuses to answer quetions only fuels a fire that she could put out by answering the questions.

May. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Ann from Manhattan

Debbie is smart. What is the problem people--misguided hatred and ignorance. I would be happy to haver her be the principal at my child's school

May. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Amy from Manhattan

You can wear a t-shirt that says anything--this is America. We don't ask people to swear allegiance to Isreal--yet, callers like phil will ensure that happens soon. Viva Isreal...oh I mean America

May. 07 2008 11:29 AM
Sally from Alphabet City

There are PLENTY of Jewish principals in NYC public schools who are very critical of Israel and its policies. Why aren't they being pressed to answer the question about Israel's right to exist? Brian and his listeners would never single them out to answer the questions Debbie Almontaser is being bombarded with. Her forced resignation is reflection of the DOE's caving to racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiment.

May. 07 2008 11:28 AM
mc from Brooklyn

Ghost Voter,
Please make a distinction between Muslim and Arab.

May. 07 2008 11:28 AM

There's a growing paranoid inclination to
attribute "guilt by association", why is this person held accountable for somebody's T-Shirt?

The caller's position is outrageous and speaks to how extreme pro-Israel views can be: why is being critical towards Israel being more and more often being equated to being " anti-american"?

May. 07 2008 11:27 AM
Marco from Manhattan

Hey Zach, I have actually lived in two Muslim countries and am well aware that many Arabs are Christian (many of whom were chased out of their countries by Islamists). The US certainly needs Arabic speakers but its public schools do not need the involvement of people like Imam Abdul-Rashid who is an unabashed acolyte of the Muslim Brotherhood. You are the one who seems not to be able to distinguish between an institution that teaches Arabic from one that espouses an Islamist point of view.

May. 07 2008 11:27 AM
peter from Manhattan

Should educators pledge allegiance to Isreal????? Are you serious????. Why did they let a crazy on the show?
Brian--why do you let this ignorance on the air?

May. 07 2008 11:27 AM
anonymous from park slope

In order to live and work in NYC, must we all swear an oath that we believe in Israel's right to exist? The very fact that the question is posed suggests that its worth discussion.

May. 07 2008 11:26 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

Why are pursuing the question? It is none of your business. Many Americans have legitimate questions about Israel and the way that it acts.

May. 07 2008 11:26 AM
lh from Manhattan

Almontasser's endorsement of a T-shirt for students saying "Intifada NYC" proves that she is not building bridges between all people. The Intifada is a symbol of the Arab war on the Jewish state of Israel.

May. 07 2008 11:26 AM
Owen from Rochester

That last caller, who asked if Ms. Almontaser believes in the right of Israel to exist, was appalling. Who do these people think they are, to create an unofficial set of political and religious principles for public school officials to swear allegiance to? This is nascent McCarthyism and it's shameful to find it in NYC.

May. 07 2008 11:26 AM
mc from Brooklyn

All she did was explain the etymology of the word "intifada." What is so terrible about that? It is a word that few of us know the meaning of.

Only an Arab-American would be taking this kind of heat for criticizing the US government policies.

May. 07 2008 11:25 AM
Terry from New Jersey

she won't say that she believes Israel has the right to exist. I guess that means she doesn't

May. 07 2008 11:25 AM
antonio from park slope

no pandering!

May. 07 2008 11:25 AM
Publius from Washington Heights

Dumping Debbie Almontaser became the task of the AIPAC crowd which commits espionage upon the USA. I am an observant Jew and Wolfowitz and Feith are traitors and gotta go. Debbie is a good gal and has much to offer.

May. 07 2008 11:25 AM
Steven from Queens

Henry Siegman former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America, says "problem is that for all the sins attributable to the Palestinians--and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of rejectionist groups--there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, primarily because Israel's various governments, from 1967 until today, have never had the intention of allowing such a state to come into being. It would be one thing if Israeli governments had insisted on delaying a Palestinian state until certain security concerns had been dealt with. But no government serious about a two-state solution to the conflict would have pursued, without letup, the theft and fragmentation of Palestinian lands, which even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible."

May. 07 2008 11:24 AM
Jason J from New York

Thanks for the story, Brain. This clearly shows incompetent of Americans to understand and close the bridge between Middle East and the Westerns. People's ignorance to understand the Muslims is clearly presented in this. People need to overcome the fear that has been fed to the americans over the past 7 years from the Bush administration and embrace different cultures

May. 07 2008 11:24 AM
Zach from Upper West Side

I guess this guy calling doesn't know that they don't teach about the Civil War in the South, but rather the War of Northern Aggression

May. 07 2008 11:24 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

this caller is outrageous!

May. 07 2008 11:23 AM

Let's be clear: Ms. Almontaser is not a threat because she has a secret Islamist agenda that she plans to preach in code at a publicly-funded Madrassa. Mr. Pipes is not concerned because she is some kind of radical; he is concerned because she's not a radical. Mr. Pipes is deeply threatened by normal Muslims taking part in public debates, education, and so on. That must be stopped at all costs.

May. 07 2008 11:21 AM

Regardless of who is opposing you, I think you stepped over the line with your tshirt and are not taking responsibility for that.

May. 07 2008 11:20 AM

Could you please ask her to describe her background: where is she from, where did she grow up, what education, what prior education experience, etc.?

May. 07 2008 11:20 AM
Zach from Upper West Side

Marco, if you think this school is somehow linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, you don't really know anything about the school or the Muslim Brotherhood. The school is majority non-muslim non-Arab. Do you think they are trying to recruit people? It seems pretty doubtful.

Do you know that many Arabs in the U.S. are Christians? There is a huge Coptic Christian community in Egypt and many Arabs in the U.S. belong to that group. Most muslims in America are African-Americans. hardly fertile ground for Islamic extremists

May. 07 2008 11:20 AM
megan from Park Slope

That debate might answer questions like: Why did Almontaser feel compelled to defend teen girls whose group sported t-shirts with the incendiary words "Intifada NYC"? What's with her ties to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land terror-funding case with links to Hamas?

Certainly, there was enough to raise real concerns, in an era of necessarily heightened distrust. And that should have been sufficient to disqualify her, if not to kill the school entirely - however qualified and well-meaning she may be.

As they respond to terror with vigilance, Americans will no doubt sometimes go overboard. But you can be sure mistakes will be fewer here than they'd be anywhere else.

Meanwhile, too much caution is surely better than too little.

May. 07 2008 11:19 AM
Ghost Voter from 10013

She says that she is being persecuted because she is a Muslim but she was only being given the job because she is Muslim. Obviously it is not for her command of the English language as he "more better" comment a moment ago attests.

May. 07 2008 11:19 AM
Sally Forth from Soho

I'm a huge fan of education but NYC's public school system is an embarrassment to this nation. I signed up to be a teacher’s fellow and I was told anyone with a bachelors degree could become a teacher. These teachers’ fellows take a crash course in “teaching” and are sent to the “bad” schools. Why? Why on Earth would this be allowed? Shouldn’t the best teachers be sent to these schools? Why are there “bad” schools?

I know 18 year old 9th graders, and 16 and 17 year olds that cannot read a word. At what point do these privileged schools get precedent over these “bad” schools. We need to make sure everyone has a right to an education before we start bringing in all this nonsense.

May. 07 2008 11:19 AM
megan from Park Slope

When the consequences are great, as when creating a school, officials must act with an over-abundance of prudence. They must have unassailable faith in school leaders.

Once a school opens, it's hard to reverse decisions. Almontaser's lawsuit against Mayor Mike and the city - she cites her First Amendment rights in claiming she was wrongly forced to quit - shows that.

Folks can debate if Almontaser, a Yemeni-American, is a well-meaning Muslim moderate railroaded out of her dream to create "ambassadors of peace and hope" - as she, and the Times, insist.

They can weigh the paper's suggestion that she was fired in large part because of a Post story, which a judge said "misleadingly" reported her comments on the term "intifada."

Or they may decide that anti-Islamist experts like Daniel Pipes, who labeled her an "extremist," had her pegged better. And that the Gibran school really is "the kind of radicalizing effort it was said to be," as Stephen Schwartz put it.

May. 07 2008 11:19 AM
megan from Park Slope

No, no one feared the school would train kid bombers. But would kids come away less committed to US values and traditions than their peers? How would the school present 9/11, Islam, Israel, the Mideast - America?

Surely, if Americans had flattened the Riyadh Tower (Saudi Arabia's tallest building), the idea of opening a public school in the Kingdom to promote US-Arab understanding would occur to no one. No wonder jaws dropped over plans for a taxpayer-funded, Arabic-themed school in the city, in response to attacks here by Arab terrorists.

Yes, in theory, such a school can be useful. More Americans need to speak Arabic - not just to bridge cultural gaps, but to spy on the enemy and expose his plots. We need to know how Islamists think and act - not to understand their "grievances," but to help predict and foil their next attack.

May. 07 2008 11:18 AM
Jason from Brooklyn

Who is not critical of our foreign policy. And anti this administration!

May. 07 2008 11:18 AM

Gee, I guess we should just remain ignorant about the people in the Middle East. Seems like just the right way to have a political influence there. /snark

May. 07 2008 11:14 AM
mc from Brooklyn

Daniel Pipes is on the record saying that "moderate Muslims" are trying to take over American culture in a "soft jihad." I really don't think this treatment would be tolerated if the target were not Muslim or Arab.

May. 07 2008 11:13 AM
Michael from Brooklyn

The November 27 letter from a group of Rabbis to Mayor Bloomberg has it in a nutshell. They state about Ms. Almontaser: "...she was unarguably the right person to lead it [the school].That she is not its principal today is solely the result of attacks on her by marginal, right-wing groups...".

May. 07 2008 11:11 AM
Burak Kilic from Manhattan, New York

This story is just disgrace for America.

May. 07 2008 11:08 AM
Marco from Manhattan

Ask your guest about Talib Abdul-Rashid. Do we really want to welcome the Muslim Brotherhood into New York's already largely dysfunctional public school system?

May. 07 2008 11:06 AM
mc from Brooklyn

I read the recent very long NY Times article about Ms. Almontaser. It is horrifying, the kind of rhetorical assassination she suffered. It shows how few people are ready to really listen to what a person says, instead embracing the (incomplete) sound byte, which is often not an accurate representation of what was said. Remember when a federal employee had to resign because he used the word "niggardly?" Which is a word that is Scandinavian in origin and means stingy?

May. 07 2008 09:56 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.