Emory professor placed on leave after ‘antisemitic comments’

Some groups applaud the investigation while others raise concerns about academic freedom

This story has been updated.

An Emory University assistant professor has been placed on leave because of “antisemitic comments” posted to a private social media account.

In a statement Tuesday, the private university in Atlanta said: “We are aware of the recent antisemitic comments made on a private social media account by one of our assistant professors. We condemn such comments in the strongest possible terms and have immediately placed this individual on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.” An Emory spokeswoman said the professor remained on leave Thursday and declined to answer questions about the case.

Dr. Abeer AbouYabis, who works in Emory medical school’s department of hematology and medical oncology, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a Tuesday telephone interview she doesn’t know the exact comments that led to her being placed on leave, which she said made it difficult to respond to the situation. The university did not detail what was in the posts.

AbouYabis, who is Palestinian-American, said she has a track record of trying to build bridges and served previously in a leadership role with an Atlanta group that brings together Muslim and Jewish women and in another interfaith women’s alliance. She said she also was, until Tuesday morning, the co-vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion in her department at the medical school and had been planning a “healing circle” event at work to give people a chance to talk about the war.

“I was just working on that ... so people can understand each other and talk in a very safe place. That’s me,” she said. “And then all of a sudden, this morning, I realized that all of this has been going on while I’m actually taking care of patients.”

She said she’s never advocated or endorsed “any kind of violence.”

Said AbouYabis: “I am a doctor because I want to help people.”

The watchdog group StopAntisemitism and others have shared screenshots of posts they attribute to AbouYabis. In a statement, StopAntisemitism’s executive director Liora Rez commended Emory for placing the professor on leave and called on the university to fire her.

The AJC obtained screenshots of several Facebook posts expressing support for Palestine. One post, dated Oct. 8, the day after Hamas militants attacked Israel, included a poem with the lines: “They got walls we got gliders Glory to all resistance fighters.” AbouYabis did not respond to requests to review or comment on the screenshots.

She started working at Emory in 2018, according to an Emory Winship Cancer Institute page that was deleted Tuesday.

In a Tuesday statement, Emory said: ”As we navigate difficult conversations, our expectation is that all members of the Emory community continue to demonstrate empathy and treat each other with dignity and respect. There is no place in our community for language and behavior based in hatred, that incites violence, and that is counter to the values that unite us as educators and health practitioners.”

Colleges across the nation and here in Georgia have reported antisemeitic incidents and other issues since the start of the Israel-Hamas war earlier this month.

Israel’s military responded to Hamas attacks with airstrikes in Gaza. The Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday that 3,785 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 12,500 others have been wounded, according to the Associated Press. The AP reports that more than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly in the first attack, and about 200 people are believed to have been captured by Hamas. More than 1 million Palestinians have left the region.

Emory Hillel, which serves more than 1,500 Jewish students, supports the school’s decision to place the professor on leave and investigate further, said Rabbi Ilan Schwartz, the group’s executive director.

But the case sparked concern about academic freedom, including from the nonprofit campus free speech organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. FIRE attorney Alex Morey said the organization plans to contact the school about its decision “to launch a chilling investigation” that puts all faculty on notice about expressing controversial views.

FIRE is monitoring several campus free speech issues arising from the current conflict, but the Emory investigation is the only one in recent weeks the group is aware of involving a faculty member placed on leave.

“Emory has really good free speech policies. They have really good academic freedom policies that make it incredibly clear that faculty have the right to make political statements, to have political views, to express them extramurally, so outside of class,” Morey said.

She said there’s been no indication the professor engaged in discrimination in the classroom or other actions amounting to misconduct, even if the views expressed are “very offensive to Jewish students.”

Morey said speech is powerful: “We know that sometimes speech can cause people to be upset, to feel hurt but the alternative is that we give the government power to decide what ideas get to be aired.”

Tom Rogers, who serves on the executive committee of the Emory chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the group is still trying to learn details about the issue.

Matthew Boedy, president of the AAUP’s Georgia Conference, said he’s concerned about the decision to place the professor on leave for social media posts which aren’t connected to her job and should be allowed because of academic freedom. Boedy, a University of North Georgia professor, pointed to another case at Emory where a law school professor was reinstated in 2020 after being placed on leave for using a racial epithet.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech said campus police are investigating a weekend incident in which someone used shaving cream “to write a pro-Palestinian message” on an outside wall of a Jewish fraternity.

The school’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi said in a statement that members “are profoundly disheartened to see that this conflict has allowed antisemitism to gain a foothold on our campus.”

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera sent a Monday message to the campus that said the First Amendment does not allow for vandalism or assault.

“Every member of this community has the right to speak freely, but respectful interaction and discourse are the expectations of how our community behaves and are the standards to which we must hold ourselves and each other, without fail,” he wrote.