University of South Carolina law school graduate and Columbia-based federal public defender Suha Najjar has a long history of advocacy on the behalf of the Palestinian cause – advocacy which drew the attention of anti-semitic watch groups well before Hamas’ October 7, 2023 attack on Israel.
As this struggle continues, her online commentary is reviving a debate over where protected speech begins – and ends – for federal employees.
Najjar is a first generation American whose family immigrated from Palestine to Columbia S.C. when she was ten months old. She returned to Palestine on a UN humanitarian mission prior to attending the USC school of law.
Najjar’s activism as a student drew the attention of the pro-Israeli watchdog organization, Canary Mission. This group exists to document “individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses and beyond.” However, its detractors have accused the website of using “McCarthyist tactics” and “open racism” to hurt the job prospects of those listed on its pages.
The Canary Mission’s report on Najjar focuses on social media posts from 2013-2014 in which she praised the Hamas’ Qassam fighters. In one tweet, she recounted driving “by a truck that had a group of Qassam fighters in the back.”
“Everyone cheered. I wanted to kiss their feet,” she said.
Another tweet celebrated Qassam capturing an Israeli soldier.
Najjar has also touted her “M-75” perfume on Twitter, a perfume named after the missiles designed by Hamas and fired into Israel in 2012. In case her feelings on the subject weren’t sufficiently clear, in February 2013 Najjar tweeted “Israel has no right to exist.”
(Click to view)
While controversial, Najjar’s speech is protected by the First Amendment. And if the Canary Mission’s objective in publicizing it was truly to deny her future employment, the mission failed. After graduating law school, Najjar found employment with the federal government as an assistant federal public defender in 2021.
Najjar’s social media presence became more tame in the decade between her most most inflammatory posts and Hamas’ attack on Israel earlier this month. As news of Hamas’ attacks first broke, Najjar took to X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) to share her views.
On the day of the attack, she retweeted the following statement:
“Palestinians have been saying — for decades — that today’s historic resistance is inevitable in the face of a brutal settler-colonial ethno-state, but ‘analysts’ & ‘observers’ of the region are now in shock. They even dare to publicly proclaim: ‘we never saw this coming.'”
Reasonable regional observers could certainly conclude that violence was all but inevitable. Avner Cohen, an ex-Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza for more than twenty years, told The Wall Street Journal in 2009 that “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation.” Israel’s attempts to counterbalance the secularist government of Palestine with a religious one in the 1980s failed.
Avner addressed the Israeli government in his writings and suggested “focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face.”
On October 7, reality jumped into the faces of Israelis harder than ever before – and Najjar retweeted a number of posts concerning not just the causes of the the terror attack, but America’s response to it. One tweet implored readers to “pay real close attention to who gets described as a terrorist when fighting for freedom, from Atlanta to Palestine” while another lamented that “America is on the wrong side of every liberation struggle on this earth.”
Perhaps most crass, Najjar tweeted an image comparing Hamas’ invading forces to a caged bird being freed.
(Click to view)
Federal employees have the same rights to free speech as the rest of us, but that right is subject to the Pickering Connick test, a longstanding tool used by courts to determine whether governmental employers violated their employees’ right to free expression.
The test first asks whether the issue addressed by the employee was a “public matter.” Najjar’s comments certainly meet this criteria.
The second half of the test, dubbed the “balancing prong,” asks the court to balance the employee’s right to free speech with the employer’s interests in maintaining an efficient, “disruption-free” workplace. As imagined, those definitions allow wide latitude to presiding judges. Some factors the Washington, D.C. court of appeals has used to guide judges include “the truth or falsity of the employee’s statement; any interference with the performance of his job resulting from the speech; the context of the speech and accompanying conduct; and its anticipated effect on agency morale and upon working relationships with immediate superiors.”
It could be argued negative workplace effects of a federal employee repeatedly voicing support for a group the United States has officially designated a terrorist organization – a group which openly aims to destroy the state of Israel – could potentially interfere with both agency morale and Najjar’s ability to function within her role.
Najjar’s posts have yet to prompt an official response. In fact, FITSNews’ request for comment on the day prior to this article’s publication appeared to be the first time the office of the public defender became aware of Najjar’s social media engagement.
FITSNews is a committed proponent of free speech. Our media outlet has never shied away from exploring narratives which run counter to those promulgated by the mainstream media machine. A marketplace of ideas in which American citizens do nothing but parrot pre-approved narratives is no marketplace at all.
But should we not also balance the defense of this most sacred principle against the reality that there are many who seek the destruction of the non-islamic world? Including many willing to commit acts of violence in furtherance of this agenda?
It beneficial to the American people that platforms like X allow for the wars of the 2020s to reach the citizenry directly. While mainstream media outlets will certainly continue to push their narratives, they no longer serve as the sole gatekeepers of which side’s dead children get shown to the world – and which side’s dead children remain hidden.
That is a positive development – as many of America’s most disastrous foreign policy decisions from decades past could have been avoided had the public simply been allowed to see beyond the tightly controlled narratives presented to them by legacy media outlets.
The magnitude of the civilian carnage and death caused by Israel’s retaliatory strikes in Gaza would surely not be widely known or understood in the western world if Palestinians weren’t able to leverage internet platforms to directly share horrifying photos and videos from the ground. Anyone who values reality over spoon-fed narratives should be glad Americans aren’t able to bury our heads in the sand – even if they believe Israel’s strikes are completely morally justified.
Individuals who contribute to conversations by voicing perspectives that Americans would otherwise be shielded from are certainly doing the public discourse a favor, and should be protected from retaliation. But individuals like Najjar who have for more than a decade voiced support for organizations that have carried out well documented rapes and murders, and who’ve voiced their support for the destruction of Israel (a goal which can only be achieved through unfathomable violence) fall far outside of the bounds of productive speech.
While Americans have the right to speak freely, we do not have the right to avoid the consequences of our speech. In the wake of the October 7, 2023 attack many Israeli commentators quoted Maya Angelou as saying “when someone tells you who they are, believe them.”
Najjar has for years expressed her support for violent militants. Perhaps is it time to believe her?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
(Via: Travis Bell)
Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.
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