‘The New McCarthyism’: NY Hospital Fires Nurse for Empathizing With Gaza Mothers

NYU Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine called Hesen Jabr's termination "a blatant attack on free speech and an appalling injustice."

Posted on

A nurse was fired earlier this month from a New York City hospital for a speech lamenting the anguish felt by Palestinian mothers whose children were killed during the Gaza genocide – remarks that came as she was being honored for providing extraordinary care to mothers who’ve lost babies.

NYU Langone Health labor and delivery nurse Hesen Jabr, who is Palestinian American, was terminated over her May 7 speech accepting the award, in which she said that “it pains me to see the women from my country going through unimaginable losses themselves during the current genocide in Gaza.”

“Even though I can’t hold their hands and comfort them as they grieve their unborn children and the children they have lost during this genocide, I hope to keep making them proud as I represent them here at NYU,” she added.

In a May 27 Instagram post, Jabr recounted what she says happened to her when she went back to work for the first time after her speech:

As soon as I walked onto the unit, I was dragged into an impromptu meeting with the president and vice president of nursing at NYU Langone to discuss how I “put others at risk” and “ruined the ceremony” and “offended people” because a small part of my speech was a tribute towards the grieving mothers in my country. I was sent back to work my shift while the hospital spent the day “figuring out” what to do with me. After working almost the entire shift, I was dragged once again to an office where I was read my termination letter by the director of human resources, Austin Bender, and escorted off the premises by a plain clothes police officer.

NYU Langone spokesperson Steve Ritea told The New York Times that Jabr was terminated over the speech and “a previous incident” related to Gaza, over which she was warned “not to bring her views on this divisive and charged issue into the workplace.”

“She instead chose not to heed that at a recent employee recognition event that was widely attended by her colleagues, some of whom were upset after her comments,” Ritea added. “As a result, Jabr is no longer an NYU Langone employee.”

Jabr – who has a history of activism going back to her childhood, when in 2001 the ACLU filed a lawsuit on her behalf after she, as an 11-year-old Muslim girl, was forced to accept a Bible from the principal of her public elementary school in rural Louisiana – said in a Facebook post that “the pure psychological warfare NYU has waged on me as a nurse, Muslim, Palestinian, and woman, has only left me resolute.”

As the Times noted, this isn’t the first time NYU Langone employees have been terminated for expressing opinions about the war:

One doctor, a prominent cancer researcher in his 60s, was outspoken in defense of Israel and had posted a variety of anti-Hamas political cartoons, including some with offensive caricatures of Arab people. The other, a young doctor-trainee at the start of his career, was accused of posting a message on Instagram that defended the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

The cancer doctor subsequently sued NYU Langone. The doctor-trainee was reinstated.

The nursing community has been overwhelmingly supportive of Jabr, with one nurse writing on Instagram that NYU Langone “can’t keep nurses but [are] firing them for free speech.”

“Shame on you for firing someone simply for sharing their grief, pain, and lived experience,” wrote another Instagram commenter. “If her pain makes you so uncomfortable then maybe you should ask why you would rather she suffer in silence. This is now part of written history. This is now part of your legacy. We will never forget.”

The group NYU Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine – which is vowing a service strike in the fall semester if New York University does not stop repressing pro-Palestine campus demonstrations – said on social media that it is “appalled” by Jabr’s firing, which it called “a blatant attack on free speech and an appalling injustice.”

“Firing a dedicated healthcare worker after 10 years for her views is censorship and cowardly,” the group added.

Dr. Andrew Goldstein, an assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, called Jabr’s firing “part of a pattern of anti-woke retaliation by NYU Langone.”

“I think we should vote no confidence in [NYU Grossman School of Medicine Dean Robert] Grossman and remove far-right Ken Langone’s name from our medical center,” he added, referring to the billionaire businessman who, in addition to his philanthropic largesse is known for bankrolling Republican candidates and causes.

One of Jabr’s former patients called the nurse’s termination “personal for me.”

“The maternity nurses at NYU Langone, including Hesen Jabr, went above and beyond to care for our family, including me the father in shock after an emergency C-section,” he wrote on social media. “Watching NYU Langone fire one of them for their compassion is beyond disgusting.”

More than 15,000 children have been killed by Israeli forces during the assault on Gaza, according to Palestinian and international officials and agencies. Overall, Israel’s 238-day onslaught – which is the subject of an International Court of Justice genocide case brought by South Africa and supported by more than 30 countries and regional blocs – has left at least 129,000 Palestinians dead, maimed, or missing. International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three leaders of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces have also obliterated Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure, with hospitals bombed and besieged and medical workers intentionally killed. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says two dozen Gaza hospitals are out of service, while according to the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders, nearly 500 healthcare workers have been killed by Israeli bombs and bullets.

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.