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Fieldston teacher says they were fired after controversial tweets

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An Ethical Culture Fieldston School teacher was fired Thursday after administrators there accused them of inappropriate social media posts in the wake of a controversial guest speaker at the school.

J.B. Brager, a history teacher at the school, confirmed they had been let go by the private school after 18 months, but declined to provide further comment.

A letter signed by number of Fieldston alumni, parents and community leaders suggests trouble for Brager began in November when Fieldston hosted A. Kayum Ahmed, a lecturer at Columbia Law School, and division director at the Open Society Foundations.  In a video posted by a conservative blog known as the Washington Free Beacon, Ahmed answered a question from a Fieldston student by describing apartheid in South Africa as an example of the "fluidity of victims becoming perpetrators."

"The Jews suffered in the Holocaust and established the state of Israel," Ahmed said, according to the video. "Today they perpetuate violence against the Palestinians that are unthinkable ... so again, the victims of the Holocaust and violence have become perpetrators of violence against Palestinians."

That exchange created some ire among some news outlets and bloggers, but apparently also triggered a response by Brager, who posted three tweets following the speech. "When institutions of 'learning' bow to political pressure to disavow historical reality, what can educators do within that institution?" asked Brager, who identifies as Jewish. 

"I support BDS (boycotts, divestments, sanctions) and Palestinian sovereignty, and I have for my entire life," they continued, citing BDS — boycotts, divestments, sanctions — that some have called for against Israel because of accused past actions against Palestinians. 

"I refuse to reaffirm the value of ethnonationalist settler colonialism."

Fieldston administrators told The Riverdale Press it does not comment on personnel matters. "We can affirm, however, that the school does not tolerate hurtful, offensive or exclusionary content or comment from any member of the community," the school said, in a statement. "Students, parents, employees and other members of our community all face consequences for misbehavior of this nature."

But Fieldston trustees were sent a letter Friday stating that "voices from inside the school have made it clear that the administration fired J.B. in response to pressure from a small set of conservative parents, who in turn were supported by smear attacks on J.B. in the right wing press. Those attacked focused on J.B.'s gender expression and personal investment in human rights struggles."

A resume on Brager's website says they have taught at Fieldston since Summer 2018, with a focus on history, and seventh-grade sex education. They also are a faculty advisor to Fieldston's Queer Straight Alliance Club and the trans student Affinity group.

The letter calls on the school to reinstate Brager, and for the school to "engage in reflection on racism, anti-Semitism, and an ethics of power that centers the experiences of those without it." 

The letter is signed by more than 200 Fieldston alumni, northwest Bronx community leaders, alumni parents, and members of queer and Jewish communities, and communities of color.

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