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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Women’s March co-founder denies covering up sexual assault

A former colleague said she made repeated complaints to Ms Sarsour of harassment by a male volunteer while working at the Arab American Association of New York

Linda Sarsour has denied covering up sexual harassment. Photo by Michael Falco
Linda Sarsour has denied covering up sexual harassment. Photo by Michael Falco

A prominent Muslim activist and women’s rights campaigner has denied enabling sexual harassment in the workplace and claimed that a recent allegation by a former colleague, who said she covered up sexual harassment, is part of a smear campaign to discredit her.

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American who came to prominence when she co-chaired the 2017 Women’s March held in response to the election of Donald Trump as president, said the allegations about her behaviour made in a report in a right-wing blog were false.

Asmi Fathelbab, who worked under Ms Sarsour at the Arab American Association of New York, claimed in the Daily Caller on Sunday that an office volunteer repeatedly assaulted her and followed her to and from work in a series of incidents in 2009.

Ms Fathelbab alleged that when she reported the harassment to Ms Sarsour, she was dismissed as an attention seeker and body-shamed.

"She called me a liar because ‘something like this didn’t happen to women who looked like me',” Ms Fathelbab told the publication. “How dare I interrupt her TV news interview in the other room with my ‘lies'.”

Ms Fathelbab said that she would scream when Majed Seif, the volunteer accused of harassing her, would sneak up on her, which could be heard all over the office.

“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,” Ms Fathelbab said.

After allegedly being ignored by Ms Sarsour, she said she went to the association’s board of directors, who also dismissed the allegations on the basis that the volunteer was a “God-fearing man”, who was “always at the mosque”.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News in which she provided statements and e-mails to support her case, Ms Sarsour said the initial report was another smear from one of her many critics.

However, she had been concerned by how far the story had reached after Mr Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, retweeted the original claims.

“Anti-Semitic, terrorist sympathiser, supporter of female genital mutilation — every week they come up with some new stuff about me,” Ms Sarsour said. “But when the president’s son is tweeting about me, that’s serious stuff.”

Ms Sarsour said no allegations of groping had been made by Ms Fathelbab and that she had found “no substantial evidence or any testimonies from anyone” about the alleged accusations.

“The exact words were, ‘He makes me feel uncomfortable',” Ms Sarsour told Buzzfeed. “There was nothing about touching or groping. There’s no evidence, no e-mail, she can pull out where she ever gave those claims to us.”

In response to the charge that she “fat-shamed” Ms Fathelbab, Ms Sarsour said that, as a mother of two daughters, that was not the sort of behaviour she would engage in.

Ms Sarsour has been supported by fellow Women’s March activists, who dismissed the initial report as an attack on her character.