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Readers respond to The Paper’s Arabic school coverage, editorial

The Brooklyn Paper
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To the editor,

I’m writing in response to The Brooklyn Paper’s anti-Semitic reporting of the most-recent episode in the Khalil Gibran International Academy farce (“Jew to lead Arabic school,” Aug. 18): the hiring of a non-Arabic speaking principal with no expertise in Arabic culture, Danielle Salzberg, to replace the clumsy and politically “challenged” school founder Debbie Almontaser.

It’s outrageous that The Paper has chosen to focus on Salzberg’s religion as the key to the story. Particularly offensive was the description of Salzberg as “a practicing Jew who belongs to an Upper West Wide synagogue.”

If an African-American or Italian-American educator had been appointed to this post, I doubt that the paper would have headlined “Black To Lead Arab School,” or detailed “practicing Christian who worships at a Bay Ridge Catholic church.”

It’s ironic that the paper can editorialize about the “inept” and “ham-handed manner in which the Department of Education bureaucrats, tone-deaf to local concerns handled” the opening of the school, while its reporting is equally tone-deaf.

Karen Duchan, Park Slope

Editor’s note: Just so there’s no misunderstanding, Duchan mixes quotes from both our objective news story and our strongly worded editorial. The editorial made it clear that The Paper did not take a position on the creation of an Arabic language and culture school, but simply that the city erred when it installed as principal of an Arabic language and culture school a woman with no background in Arabic culture and no knowledge of the Arabic language.

• • •

To the editor,

It is truly deplorable that the Department of Education has forced out Debbie Almontaser from the Gibran Academy, a project she helped to initiate. Sadly, Debbie was smeared in the media and hounded from her job because she defined the meaning of “intifada” accurately as “throwing off oppression,” while also clearly indicating that she opposes violence. Apparently that is not good enough for the powers that be here in New York City.

Almontaser’s statement was hardly incorrect — defining the Arabic meaning of “intifada” is what educators do. Moreover, Debbie was clear in her condemnation of violence. The city has completely failed in objectivity in this matter. Instead, schools Chancellor Joel Klein blamed the victim, who is clearly Almontaser.

The extreme right has consistently attacked the Gibran Academy. By giving in to such negative forces, the city has taught a terrible lesson to the students and families.

As a colleague active with Debbie in interfaith dialogue, I know I am not alone in currently reassessing the merits of dialogue and civic engagement. Debbie is very well known for her interfaith work on the grassroots level in Brooklyn.

If New York is remain an open, tolerant and vital city, we cannot allow leaders to be harassed and hounded. You will find yourself with a deeply alienated generation of Arabs and Muslims, a dangerous situation not easily remedied.

Adem Carroll, The Bronx

The writer is head of the Muslim Consultative Network

• • •

To the editor,

Jews have taught in the public school system forever. To imply that Danielle Salzberg, simply because she is Jewish, would not be effective as principal in this school is ridiculous.

Would you rather have someone who thinks “Intifada NYC” is a proper thought to wear on someone’s chest?

No matter what Almontaser says, her intent is undeniable. This is Brooklyn, New York, not an extension of an Arab country.

Diane Hunt, Bay Ridge

Editor’s note: For the record, The Paper did not say that Salzberg was unqualified because she is Jewish. The Paper’s editorial said she is unqualified to lead an Arabic-language school because she does not speak Arabic.

• • •

To the editor,

Debbie Almontaser has always been one of the most inspiring people I have known. We have crossed paths numerous times, and she was always honest and always taking brave stands.

She has spoken at my synagogue about Jewish-Arab relations, attended meetings to inspire collaborations between local Jews and Arabs, and has been an indomitable force seeking bridges between our communities.

As a fellow New York City educator, I recognize that our public schools serve a significant Arab youth population. As an American living through our post-9-11 era, it has become clear that it is in the interests of our national security to support Arab-Americans to be knowledgeable and proud of both their Arabic and their American roots.

When I learned of the creation of the Khalil Academy, I was proud to be a part of a city that could take such an important step forward. And I could not imagine a better person to lead it than Debbie Almontaser, no one I could trust more, as an educator, a Jew, or as an American, to make it what our city and our country so sorely needs.

Barry Joseph, Brooklyn Heights

Simcha speaks

To the editor,

In response to your article on the Borough President’s race (“Plenty of traffic in race for Boro Prez,” July 28), the reason that I have opted out of that race in favor of a citywide race has little to do with “power,” as you suggest, but rather very much to do with substance.

That said, as always, I appreciate your unending wit and sense of humor, but don’t expect my mother to forgive you any time soon for making fun of my unsolicited materials legislation.

Simcha Felder, Borough Park

The writer is a member of the City Council

Coney blues

To the editor,

I spent my whole childhood at Coney Island, the only place my parents ever took us during the summer (“Why not Thor?” Aug. 11). It was a delight, an education, and a constant revelation.

I urge New York City to hold fast against the obvious gentrification of Coney Island, morphing it into a soul-deadening enclave of the rich. Coney Island must remain the People’s Playground!

Michael Disend, San Francisco

Where’s Marty?

To the editor,

I checked the Borough President Markowitz’s official Web site (www.brooklyn-usa.org) to find out information on how I could make a donation to a local organization in response to last week’s tornado, but there was no mention of the storm at all.

I find it ironic that Markowitz is available for every photo op and publicity stunt in the borough but doesn’t think that a catastrophic “act of God” that affected hundreds of his constituents is important enough to replace information on tourism and his weight loss campaign. Vanessa Poggioli, Bay Ridge

Editor’s note: For the record, there is a button on Markowitz’s Web site that directs victims to a now-closed “disaster recovery center.” There is no way to donate to victims through Markowitz’s site.

Chirp chirp

To the editor,

Nice story about the parrots in Park Slope (“Squawk!” Aug. 18). It is great to see these wonderful birds expanding.

Hopefully they will survive and replace the Carolina Parakeet that went extinct in North America in the early 1900s.

Jon-Mark Davey, Florida

The writer is co-author of the book “Parrots in the City,” a seminal volume on small birds in the big town.

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