+972 Magazine, a “blog-based web magazine” with a stated commitment to “human rights and freedom of information,” is trying to sweep under the rug accusations of “wrongful dismissal” due to “racist motives.”
Sawsan Khalife, former executive director of the NGO behind +972, sued the group and demanded NIS 300,000 in damages and back pay. She alleged that the motives behind her termination were “demeaning, offensive and discriminatory” and that a Jewish employee’s statement that a “Palestinian editor” should not be the organization’s top priority constitutes racism. According to documents filed with the court, this same employee, Yael Marom, co-editor of +972’s Hebrew language website “Local Call” and Public Engagement Manager at Just Vision (a +972 funder), allegedly made a derogatory, sexist slur that Khalife understood to be aimed at her.
In its statement of defense, the staff and board of +972 denied these allegations and countered that Khalife has been grossly incompetent in performing her responsibilities. Moreover, they stated that Khalife was hired as part of an “affirmative action” despite being underqualified, and did not accepted offers for help from the board and staff. According to a deposition from Hagai Matar, an editor and temporary CEO of +972, Khalife neglected to prepare employment contracts, file reports, hold records and protocols of board meetings, acknowledge donations, and hindered efforts to create a long term operating plan for the non-profit. These also stated that Palestinian employees and partners of +972 rejected the claims of racism, and that her actions created a major crisis with Just Vision, which has provided $214,000 to the Local Call website since 2014.
On February 13, 2017, in what appears to be an attempt to minimize the damage to their image vis a-vis the public, +972 settled and the sides agreed to “mutually withdraw” their claims against each other.
The next day, +972 took a parting shot at Khalife in a “note to our readers” from the Board of Directors, stating that Khalife had “retracted the unjust accusations she had leveled” (emphasis added), while “+972 retracted its list of grievances as well.”
The ugliness of this episode is an important reminder that NGOs prefer to prioritize their reputations when faced with scandals and bad publicity.