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Nurse fired by NYU Langone Health after referring to Gaza ‘genocide’ in speech

FILE - Health care workers walk in and out of the entrance at NYU-Langone Hospital on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in New York. A nurse was fired by the hospital after she referred to Israel's war in Gaza as "genocide" during a speech accepting an award. Labor and delivery nurse Hesen Jabr, who is Palestinian American, was being honored by NYU Langone Health for her compassion in caring for mothers who had lost babies when she drew a link between her work and the suffering of mothers in Gaza. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File)
FILE – Health care workers walk in and out of the entrance at NYU-Langone Hospital on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in New York. A nurse was fired by the hospital after she referred to Israel’s war in Gaza as “genocide” during a speech accepting an award. Labor and delivery nurse Hesen Jabr, who is Palestinian American, was being honored by NYU Langone Health for her compassion in caring for mothers who had lost babies when she drew a link between her work and the suffering of mothers in Gaza. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File)

BY  KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press, May 29, 2024

NEW YORK (AP) — A nurse was fired by a New York City hospital after she referred to Israel’s war in Gaza as a “genocide” during a speech accepting an award.

Labor and delivery nurse Hesen Jabr, who is Palestinian American, was being honored by NYU Langone Health for her compassion in caring for mothers who had lost babies when she drew a link between her work and the suffering of mothers 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, according to a video of the May 7 speech that she posted on social media. “This award is deeply personal to me for those reasons.”

Jabr wrote on Instagram that she arrived at work on May 22 for her first shift back after receiving the award when she was summoned to a meeting with the hospital’s president and vice president of nursing “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.”

She wrote that after working most of her shift she was “dragged once again to an office” where she was read her termination letter and then escorted out of the building.

A spokesperson for NYU Langone, Steve Ritea, confirmed that Jabr was fired following her speech and said there had been “a previous incident as well.”

“Hesen Jabr was warned in December, following a previous incident, not to bring her views on this divisive and charged issue into the workplace,” Mr. Ritea said in a statement. “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. As a result, Jabr is no longer an NYU Langone employee.”

Ritea did not provide any details of the previous incident.

Jabr defended her speech in an interview with The New York Times and said talking about the war “was so relevant” given the nature of the award she had won.

“It was an award for bereavement; it was for grieving mothers,” she said.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health says that more than 36,000 people have been killed in the territory during the war that started with the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been displaced and U.N. officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

Critics say Israel’s military campaign amounts to genocide, and the government of South Africa formally accused the country of genocide in January when it asked the United Nations’ top court to order a halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza.

Israel has denied the genocide charge and told the International Court of Justice it is doing everything it can to protect Gaza’s civilian population.

Jabr is not the first employee at the hospital, which was renamed from NYU Medical Center after a major donation from Republican Party donor and billionaire Kenneth Langone, to be fired over comments about the Mideast conflict. 

A prominent researcher who directed the hospital’s cancer center was fired after he posted anti-Hamas political cartoons including caricatures of Arab people. That researcher, biologist Benjamin Neel, has since filed suit against the hospital.

Jabr’s firing also was not her first time in the spotlight. When she was an 11-year-old in Louisiana, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on her behalf after she was forced to accept a Bible from the principal of her public school.

“This is not my first rodeo,” she told the Times.

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