A filing from the Council on American Islamic Relations released Friday alleges that another Montgomery County, Maryland, teacher has been placed on leave after expressing support for Palestinians during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
The organization says that Hajur El-Haggan, a teacher at Argyle Middle School who identifies as Muslim and is of Egyptian and Sudanese national origin, was placed on leave for a quote included in her email signature.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” El-Haggan’s signature reads, according to the complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In the complaint, CAIR said, “The slogan ‘From the river to sea, Palestine will be free’ is, at its core, a call for Palestinian freedom, dignity, and self-determination,” and argued that Montgomery County Public School’s decision to reprimand El-Haggan amounted to discrimination because other employees had similar speech in their emails.
However, for many Jews the slogan represents a clear demand for Israel’s eradication and is inherently anti-Jewish. The phrase “from the river to the sea” has been adopted by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, in its drive to claim land spanning Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
According to CAIR, El-Haggan was the only employee at the school who was reprimanded.
Montgomery County officials have not stated if the email signature was the sole reason El-Haggan was placed on administrative leave and has not shared an assessment of the email signature.
“The employee is on leave pending an investigation,” Chris Cram, Director of the Department of Communications at MCPS, told WTOP in an email. Cram did not provide any additional details.
According to a letter to families first reported by the Washington Post, Principal James Allrich said El-Haggan’s email signature may have been a violation of a school system policy.
Even so, El-Haggan said, the school did not adhere to its policies focused on restorative justice when responding to this incident.
“The way in which Ms. El-Haggan was treated was far from Restorative Justice and is in stark contrast to the county’s regular practices and treatment of other employees,” the complaint said.
“The way Ms. El-Haggan was treated in comparison to her colleagues is a clear example of discrimination. Ms. El-Haggan took part in the same conduct as her colleagues at school and in the county, but she was the only one placed on administrative leave,” CAIR Pro Bono Attorney Rawda Fawaz said in a news release announcing the complaint.
The 13-page complaint includes example email signatures from a staff development teacher, English teacher, and school library media specialist that CAIR argued “expressed opinions about various political and social matters.” Those signatures included phrases like the staff development teacher’s use of the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and links to an article about pronoun use.
“Until the present situation with Ms. El-Haggan, MCPS had never taken adverse action against any other employee who chose to include political speech in their email signature,” the complaint said.
CAIR also noted that “prior to being placed on leave, an unknown individual tore the teacher’s Palestinian flag from her car.”
“Ms. El-Haggan also had a large Palestinian flag on her car’s windshield with the text ‘Free Palestine,'” the complaint said. “On November 17, Ms. El-Haggan was targeted: her windshield flag was cut off and the passenger side mirror was pushed in.”
The organization said she filed a report with the Montgomery County Police Department days later, on Nov. 20.
“It is no coincidence that only Ms. El-Haggan, who is visibly Muslim and Arab, was the only one who faced consequences,” Fawaz said. “The discriminatory treatment was so clear, we had no choice but to file a complaint.”
El-Haggan is the third known Montgomery County Public School staff member placed on leave for statements made surrounding the Israel-Hamas war in favor of Palestine.
The first two staff members, instructors at Takoma Park Middle School and Tilden Middle School, were placed on leave for social media posts the system described as antisemitic. CAIR said that El-Haggan, however, was not explicitly told what prompted her administrative leave.
“Besides the mention of the email tagline to the principal, no involved party was given any detailed information about the full scope of the reason for Ms. El-Haggan’s leave,” the organization said.
The pro-Palestinian phrase is among many complicated by the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel and Israel’s continued bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Its interpretation — either as a statement adopted by Hamas supporting violent antisemitism or a plea to end killings and work toward a two-state solution — is among those that have led to the censure of government officials and other free speech controversies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.