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How a ‘hostile’ NYC hospital fired an award-winning Palestinian-American nurse

The termination of Hesen Jabr's contract at NYU Langone comes after months of cracking down on pro-Palestinian speech
Hesen Jabr was honoured on 7 May with the Sebastian Brun Compassionate Care Award for her work with women who lost children during childbirth or pregnancy (MEE/Supplied)

The New York hospital that honoured a Palestinian-American nurse for her contributions to medicine, and then fired her days later for referring to the war on Gaza as "genocide" during her award speech, subjected pro-Palestine staff to months of harassment, workers affiliated with the sprawling academic medical centre told Middle East Eye.

Several health workers, including nurses and graduates from New York University's medical school which forms part of NYU Langone academic medical centre, told MEE that Hesen Jabr's dismissal from Langone was part of a systematic attempt by university administrators across NYU's affiliates to root out any expression of pro-Palestinian sentiment amongst the hospital community since Israel's war on Gaza began in October.

The medics described a "stifling" and "hostile" environment for Palestinians at the institution and said administrators refused to allow staff or students to express sympathy or solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, even as Israel began bombing hospitals, killing healthcare workers and demolishing medical facilities in the besieged Strip.

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They said that over the past eight months, healthcare workers were forced to keep their thoughts and concerns about Gaza to themselves - or face consequences.

"I think it’s widely understood that anyone openly expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments risks harassment and retaliation," Victoria Cladhaire*, a recent graduate of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told MEE.

"I've never witnessed anyone speaking openly about what’s happening in Gaza in the hospital, though I’ve had private conversations with Lebanese and Palestinian colleagues who are suffering tremendously."

But Cladhaire says the policing of speech is a one-way street. 

"Meanwhile, I've been in workrooms where people have spoken openly about having friends and family in the Israeli military - who are widely self-documented committing war crimes - and going to American Israel Political Action Committee conferences, etcetera, and I know I can’t do anything about it [because] it wouldn’t be considered creating an 'unsafe' environment even though it is," Cladhaire said.

'Because of institutional mass emails about standing with Israel and the slew of disciplinary actions against students and staff, we are scared to speak about anything Palestine related'

- NYU Grossman School of Medicine graduate

Another recent graduate of the medical school echoed the same sentiments, and the two described several incidents of medical students being disciplined, or of irregularities when it came to university policy towards pro-Palestinian activism across NYU's medical affiliates.

"The environment is extremely stifling and hostile. Because of institutional mass emails about standing with Israel and the slew of disciplinary actions against students and staff, we are scared to speak about anything Palestine related and feel like anything we say, can and will be used against us," the newly graduated doctor, who also asked to remain unnamed over fear of reprisals, said.

The doctor said the level of policing had reached new heights, adding that Jabr's dismissal was just a slice of a systematic attempt to silence pro-Palestinian speech across both NYU Langone Health and NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

NYU Langone is an academic medical centre and is regarded as a leader in the treatment of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. 

According to NYU Langone, the hospital "prides itself on creating a collaborative environment where nurses can share their ideas for enhancing patient care while working in an intellectually stimulating academic environment".


Jabr, who had worked as a nurse at NYU Langone since 2015, said long before she was dismissed for her comments at the award ceremony on 7 May, she had been at the receiving end of a months-long campaign to silence and discredit her.

She said that institutional bias towards Palestinians meant she was constantly asked to explain herself, even as her own community was being massacred in Gaza, and even as right-wing pro-Israeli groups doxxed her or harassed her online.

Jabr said that after October, NYU Langone's HR contacted her, following a complaint by a colleague who alleged Jabr had made her feel unsafe.

Jabr told MEE it began when she noticed her colleague had posted a call on her WhatsApp status for donations to the Israeli army, just as it had started bombing hospitals in Gaza.

'I told them it was my First Amendment right. They can't do that. They said I had no rights at NYU because it is a private institution'

- Hesen Jabr

"I asked her [over WhatsApp], where was her compassion, especially as a new mother. She didn't reply. She instead reported me to HR," Jabr said.

Then HR initiated a series of probes, according to Jabr. And then, the doxxing also began.

The pro-Israel group Stop Antisemitism posted Jabr's private Instagram content and tagged her employer after she shared a political cartoon showing an Israeli soldier looking into the mirror and seeing a German Nazi soldier looking right back at him. Jabr reshared the image with the text: "Powerful."

Jabr said that her full name, the hospital she worked at, and even the unit she was a part of had been made public, leaving her to speculate that it was someone at work who had put out her private information. She felt unsafe. 

Jabr says that instead of mitigating her fears over the doxxing, she was asked to apologise for sharing the illustration.

Later, in December, a co-worker nonchalantly yelled at the nursing station at work, "Hesen hates Jews".  

Though this was reported to HR, nothing came of the matter. Instead, Jabr says she was warned to stay clear of posting her opinions on social media. 

"I told them it was my First Amendment right. They can't do that. They said I had no rights at NYU because it is a private institution. That [freedom of expression] only applied at the federal level," Jabr said. 

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Jabr said that NYU Langone didn't specify what she could not post on social media even though she repeatedly asked for clarity.

"All they would say is that we have a certain population we need to keep comfortable. And when I pushed back and I asked what about my comfort? Isn't this discrimination? They said I represent NYU and it's my job to uphold the code of conduct and make everyone feel comfortable," Jabr said.

Jabr said the hospital's refusal to support and protect her impacted her mental and physical health. She began taking fewer shifts at work as a result of the stress. 

MEE reached out to NYU Langone repeatedly for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

However, the hospital did confirm to The New York Times that she was fired following her speech, noting "a previous incident".

"Hesen Jabr was warned in December, following a previous incident, not to bring her views on this divisive and charged issue into the workplace," the statement from NYU read.

"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," the statement added.

An award followed by dismissal

On 7 May, the 34-year-old Jabr, who had worked at the hospital since 2015, was honoured by her colleagues with the Sebastian Brun Compassionate Care Award for her "exceptional" work with bereaving women who had lost children during pregnancy or childbirth.

Jabr was honoured "for not only providing stellar care but also provides support for the rest of the nursing staff so that we can all live up to her example". 

'The NYU brand is notably one that prioritises the stifling of pro-Palestinian expression and the siding with genocidaires'

- spokesperson for NYU Alumni for Justice in Palestine,

In her acceptance speech, Jabr thanked her colleagues, and saluted her mother and grandmother "earnestly and sincerely wanting to care for these patients and alleviate their pain during the most difficult time of their lives".

At the tail-end of her short address, Jabr made a passing remark on the events unfolding in Gaza.

"It pains me to see the women from my country going through unimaginable losses themselves during the current genocide in Gaza," Jabr said.

"This award is personal to me for those reasons, 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 keep representing them at NYU," she added, to rapturous applause.

On her next shift at work on 22 May, Jabr was summoned into a meeting with the president and vice president of NYU nursing, in which she was told she "put others at risk" and "ruined the ceremony" and that she had "offended people". 

"They told me that I was warned in December not to talk about my politics at work. And that it was a violation of the code of conduct," Jabr told MEE.

"I told them that my comments were relevant to the award. It was an award for treating bereaving mothers in a unit and my care for them. It was something that was personal to me and relevant to bring it up."

Jabr said the president said that people had reached out to administrators to register their discomfort with her speech.

Hours later, she was terminated and escorted out of the hospital by a plain-clothes police officer.

"It was humiliating," Jabr recalled.

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Jabr's characterisation of the approach toward Palestinians from NYU's leadership is supported by recent medical graduates who told MEE that there was a double standard in terms of whose lives, dignity, and perceived “safety” are valued.

"The medical school issued a statement enumerating the Israeli lives lost back in October but has never done the same for Palestinians, even though the death toll is at least 40 times greater, and despite students raising this inconsistency with them on multiple occasions," Cladhaire, the newly-graduated doctor, said.

Cladhaire noted that medical students were even forbidden to hold a candlelight vigil for Palestinian healthcare workers.

"Students also asked to hold educational events about the healthcare crisis in Gaza and the administrators just ignored our emails. I know of a classmate who was accused of a hate crime for posting an informative flyer about medical apartheid in Gaza in the hospital. She had to apologise and take 'professionalism' classes," Cladhaire added.

NYU has been one of the major flashpoints in the US over the past eight months, with several students and faculty facing censure for their pro-Palestine positions. 

"The NYU brand is notably one that prioritises the stifling of pro-Palestinian expression and the siding with genocidaires, even amidst the carnage we’ve witnessed in Rafah these past few days," a spokesperson for NYU Alumni for Justice in Palestine, a coalition made up of 3,100 NYU alumni, told MEE.

"The irony is egregious - NYU Langone fired a nurse for speaking against a genocide in which the Israeli military has deliberately destroyed hospitals and killed healthcare workers.

The alumni group added that they will continue to halt donations or any other support to NYU until it ends censorship on Palestine and its "complicity" in the Israeli genocide and occupation, the spokesperson said.

"Protecting human life is a value we recognise remains forever critical to the healthcare sector, particularly amidst a genocide exacerbated by the weaponization of healthcare access en masse," the group said.

*Name changed for safety reasons

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