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Giving Notice

We’ve read about people losing their jobs because of opinions they’ve posted on the Israel-Hamas war that their employers don’t like. But some employees are also quitting because of things their employers have said—or haven’t said.

Flora Tsapovsky
November 15, 2023

Tablet Magazine

Tablet Magazine

This article is part of Hamas’ War on Israel.
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A few days after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, Asaf Eyal, a field education instructor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work, was participating in a quiet vigil on campus, mourning the dead and remembering the kidnapped Israelis. A large group of pro-Palestinian protesters soon appeared, singing and, according to Eyal, chanting hateful slogans. When Eyal, who also has a master’s from the university and had worked there for over three years, approached the campus security representatives and asked whether the protest was allowed, he was told that in the name of freedom of speech, nothing could be done. “At that moment, I, as an Israeli and a Jew, felt abandoned by the university,” he told me. The next day, Eyal sent in a resignation letter, leaving his position effective immediately.

The public discourse about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, which erupted with an unprecedented attack on several kibbutzim in the Gaza envelope, has now permeated the workplace. While stories about people getting fired for expressing their opinions—on either side, even on their personal social media accounts—have been dominating the headlines, another phenomenon is quietly persisting: Around the United States, Jewish workers like Eyal have been quitting their jobs in protest of their organizations’ stance.

Although some must have heard about screenwriter Dan Gordon’s resignation from the Writers Guild of America due to its ongoing silence on the matter, or about the British journalist Noah Abrahams, who threw away a desirable freelance gig on BBC Radio by condemning the media outlet’s description of Hamas as militants, most resignations are small and relatively private acts of bravery, fueled by a deep sense of disappointment and betrayal. Though Eyal has another source of income—a social worker, he manages a homeless family shelter in Brooklyn—he said, “If Columbia was my only job, I would have done the exact same thing. I had a lucrative position and gave it up because morally, I just couldn’t do it.”

Though a feeling of betrayal laces Eyal’s decision, he didn’t exactly expect greatness from his alma mater, given the much-covered anti-Jewish tendencies of leading U.S. universities. Slightly more surprised was mental health clinician Bari Goldojarb, who, until recently, was employed at the Bay Area chapter of an international nonprofit, the mission of which is to eliminate racism and empower women. When the organization remained silent about the Oct. 7 massacre for several days, including internal communication, Goldojarb, who was “reeling,” messaged her boss and the chapter CEO, concerned. She was told that the chapter echoes the national headquarters’ messaging, and that for international affairs, the world headquarters weighs in.

I can’t be shy or timid right now. Antisemitism thrives in the silence.

After a quick Google search, Goldojarb found that the world headquarters’ official statement didn’t mention the massacre or the hostages, instead calling on the international community to recognize the root cause of the unending situation and suffering: the Israeli occupation. The U.S. statement, while acknowledging the Hamas attack, used general language at best. “This was enough for me,” Goldojarb said. “I thought, your antisemitism can’t be stronger than the need to condemn this massacre. It was just a point that I couldn’t continue working here.”

Goldojarb went out with a bang, sending an agencywide email to more than 100 employees, expressing the painful realization that in the nonprofit’s mission to eliminate racism, Jews weren’t included—after which, her email was promptly shut off. She also published a post on LinkedIn, sharing the decision. “I felt fearful,” Goldojarb said of the sentiment surrounding the rather risky move. “I’ve spent an incredible amount of time understanding racism, and then just realizing that an agency with a mission to eliminate racism is too timid in calling it out.” Though posting on LinkedIn may hurt her chances of finding a job in the future, Goldojarb had felt the urge to share her decision publicly.

What she and Eyal did can be seen as “a beginning of a possible trend,” said Adam Neufeld, senior vice president and chief impact officer at the Anti-Defamation League, in which “many Jews across the country are rethinking their relationships with a lot of organizations and institutions they’ve held dear for so long.” He said that since the war started, the ADL has seen two to five times more alerts about antisemitism in the workplace.

Neufeld added that when it comes to supporting Jewish employees, better efforts can be seen in the for-profit sector than at nonprofits and universities. In the “parts of the quote-unquote progressive far left,” he said, “certain groups are weighing the pros and cons of the different stakeholder pressures and coming to the wrong conclusion.” Some organizations go as far as issuing special resolutions; the city council of Richmond, California, recently voted for a resolution supporting the people of Gaza, a move that resulted in two Jewish members of the city’s Design Review Board resigning. As an American Jew with a longtime career in the nonprofit sector, Goldojarb describes herself as “very left, very progressive, very liberal”—and, at the moment, “very alone” in her professional community.

In the arts space, where the concept of community runs deep and reigns supreme, the sense of isolation may be even more palpable. The compact art community of Tucson, Arizona, experienced turmoil following an Instagram post by the Museum of Contemporary Art that responded to recent events with the familiar accusatory refrain of Palestinian genocide and colonial oppression. (The story was reposted from the account of Keioui Keijaun Thomas, one of the museum’s featured artists.) In response, multimedia artist Leah Schrager, who splits her time between Tucson and New York City, promptly resigned from MOCA–Tucson’s board of directors.

“I didn’t feel I could support the mission of the museum anymore as a board member or a donor, because of the hypocrisy, the smoke and mirrors, and the gaslighting,” Schrager said. Being heavily involved in the New York art scene as well, she had learned that voicing an unpopular view can be considered “career suicide.” But the way the art world has treated the war—including the infamous Artforum incident—has led Schrager to speak out and make her resignation known. “I haven’t seen a single art institution comment on what happened in Israel,” she said. Her resignation, Schrager added, had resulted in some “very unkind” emails from people she had previously considered close.

In Los Angeles, Ido—an Israeli with deep ties in the West Coast DJ community—reports feeling “excluded and lonely.” Ido prefers to keep his real name private due to the ongoing tension surrounding the musical nonprofit he established and ran until recently. When the war broke out, he asked his team’s approval to issue a statement on behalf of the nonprofit, condemning the killings at the Nova music festival. The organization, Ido said, has the goal of supporting up-and-coming electronic music creators by raising funds, promoting talent, and eventually establishing a radio station, and he thought focusing on Nova was appropriate.

The team’s WhatsApp group stayed silent for two weeks—regarding both Ido’s suggestion and his own state of well-being. Similarly, the music community provided him no respite. “I haven’t lived in Israel for 12 years, but people know me and my origins,” he said. “No one has even checked in on me. Yet they cared enough to post inflammatory content on social media.” Feeling vulnerable, Ido notified his colleagues that he’s resigning from the nonprofit, later following up with a public social media post sharing his frustration and disillusionment. “I grieve the fact I’m leaving this beloved project due to the current climate,” he said.

Compared to reposting cease-fire cries on Instagram or creating catchy TikToks, those who have decided to give up a chunk of their income or let go of a lucrative title in protest may very well deserve the title of activists, whether they want it or not. Some, like Schrager and Eyal, are channeling their energy into projects that aim to influence public opinion and counter the narrative prevalent in their professional communities; recently, Eyal had been spearheading Flip Your Diploma, an initiative in which U.S. academics pose with their upside-down diploma, as a response to their institutions’ upside-down views. Schrager is in the process of establishing The Museum of Non-Political Art in Tucson as an alternative to the highly politicized, identity-driven curatorial approach she has witnessed in the art world throughout the years. Others, like Goldojarb and Ido, are still healing amid an ongoing crisis of faith.

Whether their acts are the start of a bigger movement depends on what workplaces do next, according to Neufeld. “Do they call out antisemitic incidents in America?” he asked. “Do they post every day about civilian deaths in Gaza without ever referencing the hostages of October 7? I anticipate Jews will think about that when they decide where to work, who to socialize with, who to give money to.” Either way, he hopes, the days of quietly blending in—an “incredible privilege” many U.S. Jews had enjoyed—are over.

Goldojarb put it simply: “I can’t be shy or timid right now. Antisemitism thrives in the silence.”

Flora Tsapovsky is a San Francisco-based food and culture writer.