color photograph of an outdoor protest in support of palestine. people hold up paper and cardboard signs with handwritten messages including "free palestine" and "decolonization liberation return"
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold placards during the "No on APEC" protest on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting in San Francisco on Nov. 12, 2023. (Photo by Jason Henry / AFP) (Photo by JASON HENRY/AFP via Getty Images)

When Tania Singh was placed on paid administrative leave at her job with the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) in mid-October, she was shocked. The former union organizer had just successfully helped organize a campaign to unionize sexual assault nurse examiners and felt she was making a difference for workers.

“I was feeling really good about the work I had done,” she said. “I [won over] some anti-union people to vote to form a union by explaining to them what it is, what solidarity means, and all of that. I was feeling really good about myself and very confident.”

Singh said MNA officials opened an investigation on her Facebook account about a week after she was placed on leave. By then, she had already heard some whispers that the union was looking into her social media statements in support of Palestine, following the Oct. 7 attacks by the military wing of the political group Hamas on Israel and the subsequent occupation State of Israel’s attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in response. She had taken to social media to post pro-Palestine statements about how Hamas’ actions were fueled by Israeli settler-colonial violence.

“I think the words I used really hit people because I specifically said I support Hamas because I support the oppressed’s right to resist in any way they deem fit,” Singh said about Palestinians. “It will be a cold day in hell when the oppressor is actually dictating the terms of how you’re going to resist.”

A week after being put on paid leave, Singh was fired. She said she was told she was supporting terrorism, sharing antisemitic messages, and harassing others with her points of view on social media. Her termination is one of many instances of employer retaliation seen in the last month against workers who have either lost financial or professional opportunities, been reprimanded by human resources, or been publicly harassed for expressing their support for Palestinians.

“It is new-age McCarthyism … and it is so scary,” Singh said. 

Cases such as Singh’s, advocates say, raise key questions about the suppression of free speech, what speech is permitted, and who can and cannot participate in political dialogue and public life.

Complaints and personnel harassment

Recent complaints of employer retaliation against workers supporting calls for a ceasefire and Palestinian liberation have increased dramatically, legal advocates told Prism. Complaints filed with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization in the U.S., show that Muslim people have had their careers and livelihoods targeted for speaking up in support of a free Palestine.

CAIR reported that Muslims in the U.S. filed 774 requests for help and reports of bias incidents Oct. 7-24. Corey Saylor, CAIR’s research and advocacy director, said that in a comparable 16-day timeframe, the organization received an average 274 complaints last year. 

“That gives you a sense of the disproportionate nature of the incoming complaints and reports of bias and requests for help that we’re seeing,” Saylor said.

The wave of complaints, the organization estimates, represents the largest number of incidents of prejudice since December 2015, after Donald Trump declared his intent to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S. Yet CAIR officials say the number of incidents is largely underreported given the fear of retaliation, doxxing, and further backlash.

Saylor called the current state of affairs a cycle of bias, noting that these cycles tend to flare up as media coverage of Israeli aggression on Palestinians and the consequent retaliation from Palestinian militant forces intensifies. 

“Usually, as an activist, you get used to it. You get targeted, that is part of the deal,” Saylor said. “I cannot recall ever seeing individual people engaging in free speech, joining the political dialogue in this nation, getting targeted in the way that I’ve seen this time around.”

Consequences and what can be done

The campaigns of harassment are often followed by palpable material consequences for some calling for Palestinian freedom. 

For Ryna Workman, a law student at New York University and the former president of NYU’s student bar association (SBA), a statement of support for Palestine and a condemnation of violent Israeli military occupation in the SBA’s Oct. 10 newsletter led to a loss of job opportunities at a corporate law firm, as well as their removal as SBA president.

After Workman’s statement in the newsletter received media coverage, Winston & Strawn, the law firm Workman had worked at during the summer, published a statement on LinkedIn calling her statement “inflammatory comments regarding Hamas’ recent terrorist attack on Israel.”

“These comments profoundly conflict with Winston & Strawnʼs values as a firm,” the statement reads. “Accordingly, the firm has rescinded the law studentʼs offer of employment.”

The SBA board voted to initiate the removal of Workman as president on Oct. 11, a day after the newsletter was sent, noting that the SBA had not screened the statements prior to its release and that it did not represent the views of the organization or other SBA officers.  

For Workman and Singh, the loss of professional opportunities has not changed their message—they are steadfastly calling for a ceasefire. But they also want to use their platform to empower others who want to speak up to support Palestinian lives. 

“I really want to underscore that other people feel similarly to me, to all these people in the streets that are afraid to speak out because of what happened to me,” Workman said. “If by sharing my story, I let people know that these consequences, while they exist, should not deter them from speaking out, and I put the onus back on these institutions like our universities and our employers to do more to protect us in the face of doxxing and harassment, I’m OK with speaking to that … but I want to center this call for a ceasefire.”

Workman encourages others who want to stop the genocide in Gaza to keep making their voices heard. 

“Don’t let these consequences you are facing discourage you from speaking out for what you know to be true, for what you believe in, and for trying to stop this loss of human life,” they said. “Because that is more commendable than any honor, than any job, than any award will ever be.”

Workers’ rights advocates and legal experts say the consequences workers like Singh and Workman are facing are dire but need to be reported and challenged. Saylor said every case needs to be examined and encouraged those who have faced incidents of bias or discrimination due to freedom of expression to report their case on the CAIR website

Canadian attorney Nora Fathalipour at one point received 50 calls a day seeking legal advice after a LinkedIn post where she offered legal representation pro bono for those facing retaliation for supporting Palestine went viral. Fathalipour said it’s important to seek legal representation. 

“It’s a very volatile situation; it’s changing day by day,” Fathalipour said. “Even assumptions that we might have made before about what a professional could say or do online, they might have been turned on their heads right now.”