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Bay Ridge

Ridge political activist under fire for allegedly ignoring sexual harassment complaints

High-profile Bay Ridge political activist Linda Sarsour has come under fire from a former colleague who claims the prominent Muslim and women’s rights campaigner repeatedly dismissed claims that she was being sexually assaulted in their shared workplace.

Former Arab American Association of New York (AAANY) employee Asmi Fathelbab (who served under Sarsour, longtime executive director of the organization) also alleged that the Ridge figurehead both threatened and body-shamed her, as well as had her fired from other city jobs after her time ended with AAANY, according to a series of published news reports.

Fathelbab told The Daily Caller (a right-wing news site that first reported the allegations on Sunday, December 17) that Sarsour “oversaw an environment unsafe and abusive to women,” further claiming that “Women who put [Sarsour] on a pedestal for women’s rights and empowerment deserve to know how she really treats us.”

The Caller reported that the problems began in early 2009 when a man named Majed Seif, who lived in the Fifth Avenue building where the organization’s offices have long been located, allegedly began stalking Fathelbab.

“He would sneak up on me during times when no one was around, he would touch me, you could hear me scream at the top of my lungs,” she told the publication. “He would pin me against the wall and rub his crotch on me.”

Fathelbab, a 37-year-old New York native who was raised in a Muslim household, worked for Sarsour for almost a year, according to the Caller, a time during which Fathelbab also alleges her boss “regularly body-shamed her and enabled Seif’s sexual assault.”

“According to Sarsour, something like that did not happen to someone that looked like ‘me’ and no one would ever believe me if I ever told them what happened,” Fathelbab recounted to the Caller, telling the site also that Sarsour “threatened legal and professional damage if she went public with the sexual assault claims.”

She further alleges that she was dismissed by the association’s board of directors after going to Sarsour, all of whom Fathelbab said stood with the accused on the basis that he was a “good Muslim.”

Still, Fathelbab persisted, telling the Caller, “I wanted to be able to go home without the worries of him waiting to grab me in front of my house to rape me.”

In response to the allegations, Sarsour (who has not yet responded to this paper’s request for comment) provided BuzzFeed News with affidavits, email correspondence and witness statements to prove her due diligence in handling the situation (“[Fathelbab’s] exact words were, ‘He makes me feel uncomfortable.’ There was nothing about touching or groping,” Sarsour told BuzzFeed).

She also took to Twitter to condemn the allegations as the “newest wave of right wing attacks” against her.

“Every woman has a right to her story,” she said in her tweet. “I also have the right to defend myself, my character and my commitment to women. This is an unfortunate situation that has been weaponized by the right wing including the son of the president of the United States as part of a longstanding smear campaign against me.”

Sarsour is referring to Donald Trump Jr., who, on Sunday, tweeted a link to the Daily Caller’s story. Sarsour was one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, held on the Saturday following President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“Don’t allow them to use women against each other,” Sarsour’s tweet went on. “This is an important time of reckoning and I hope women continue to be courageous in sharing their stories.”

The affidavits provided to BuzzFeed show that Sarsour defended Seif (who has also denied the allegations) against the accusations Fathelbab was making and said it was the latter who was creating a hostile work environment. BuzzFeed also reported that Sarsour had instructed Seif to stay “as far away as possible” from Fathelbab.

While the allegations have sparked their fair share of backlash, Sarsour has also seen support from friends, family and other women who say the former AAANY director has handled other instances of sexual assault in a drastically different manor from that which has been alleged.

“As a recent survivor of sexual assault, [Sarsour] was the one of the first people to reach out to me once she got word,” tweeted co-founder and global director of the Women’s March Breanne Butler. “This attack on her is a new low that is truly putting her and her family in danger.”

Sarsour, whose profile had been heightened since helping organize the historic Women’s March, stepped down as executive director of the association in early 2017 to pursue a more “national” agenda.

She led the AAANY for 11 years.

Fathelbab, who has also come under fire, on Tuesday, December 19 tweeted, “For the record, I did not get paid for my story[.] I am neither right wing nor left wing, I am a real person, I am a woman, I am Muslim. This all actually happened to me, whether you believe it or not based on politics is not how humans should come to a conclusion on any topic. I am a human being, treat me like one is all I ask.”

In a phone call with this paper, Fathelbab wondered why Sarsour “turned this into an attack on her.”

“It’s all really interesting because so many people are using the hashtag #MeToo to tell their story and I feel like I am the only one that is being told they’re lying,” she said, adding that, “it needs to be looked at as a human story, not a political one.”

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