Note: This article is for general informational purposes. It is not a substitute for seeking specific legal advice, or to be relied on before taking or refraining from any action.
The topic of Palestine has always been a difficult one to navigate even amongst non-Muslim friends and acquaintances, let alone in the workplace. Unfortunately Pro-Palestinian individuals, particularly Muslims, have been at risk of being accused of anti-semetism, terrorist sympathism or even just being “that person” when they voice any expression of solidarity in the workplace – which in some cases results in disciplinary action or loss of jobs. According to a recent poll by Muslamic Makers, as events continue to escalate globally, 76% of the Muslims surveyed do not feel comfortable expressing their views at work, with 49% citing fear of repercussions and 34%, fear of losing their jobs, as a reason. This has been exacerbated by the well-documented media biases which has led to u-turns and apology statements.
However, there is hope. With the rise of the anti-racism agenda across all sectors following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent support given to the Black Lives Matter movement, companies have made public commitments to being anti-racist, more diverse and inclusive. Public opinion is changing and people are starting to educate themselves and understand the bias and discrimination faced by racially marginalised groups, even if we cannot see it for Palestine just yet. Now is the time to navigate this tactfully to hold our workplaces accountable to these commitments when it comes to Palestine.
Here are 8 tips to help navigate talking about Palestine in the workplace:
The first thing is to know your rights in the workplace. Everyone’s situation will differ, and what is acceptable in one company may not be acceptable in another. So it is essential to look up your company’s internal policies, particularly ‘Dignity at Work’, ‘Social Media’ and ‘Bullying & Harassment’. These policies are core to protecting yourself. If your workplace doesn’t have these policies, seek advice from your union and independent organisations within your regional context (e.g. Unite Union for the UK).
You have the right to freedom of expression in solidarity with Palestine so long it does not breach any workplace policy, causing harm or discrimination against any other marginalised groups (e.g. constitute anti-semitism): Ways you can express your solidarity could include:
People may complain about your solidarity, but based on your workplace policies you should know what is permissible, as well as what you can do if any complaint is made against you. These policies give you a firm ground to reiterate your rights and ensure no undue action is taken against you.
Treating someone less favourably because of their religious belief or race is a breach of the Equality Act 2010. If you feel this has been the case in any instance, you can raise an internal grievance at your workplace, as well as take the matter to court.
Some companies have social media policies that do not allow you to post any political opinions even on your personal social media accounts. If so, remove any affiliation to the company, make your account private if appropriate, add ‘views are my own’ to your bio and/or remove colleagues who you know do not share the same sentiments or those you are unsure of. During this time, it may be worth deactivating your Linkedin profile if you think you are at risk of breaching their social media policies.
If in the office, this may not be an appropriate space in some companies to have active discussions on Palestine. This may be better with colleagues off site over lunch or through staff networks, events or relevant internal communications such as intranet articles.
There is a difference between what may make people feel uncomfortable and what is in breach of company policy or illegal. As long as this line is not crossed, you can reiterate your rights and be protected at work.
Depending on where you work, some companies are more or less likely to take a political stance on anything including Palestine.
If yours is an apolitical company such as a government agency or corporation, then focus on advocating for your rights of freedom of expression and your dignity and wellbeing at work during this time. This could include asking management to send an email recognising the mental health impact on staff, presenting a zero tolerance stance on Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism and signposting to wellbeing resources and processes.
If your company is more likely to take a political or humanitarian stance (such as charities), you can have a more active conversation on Palestine and advocate for a stance to be made that recognises the humanitarian situation. In companies that have an ethical policy on purchasing, you may also be able to advocate for them to consider the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) principles to their workplace policies.
If your company has made any public commitment to anti-racism, diversity and inclusion, lean on these to support you in either case. To be truly anti-racist, a company must educate themselves on the discrimination of the racially marginalised Palestinians and extend their allyship. Companies who have made this commitment should protect colleagues from various backgrounds, Palestinian, Muslim or otherwise, and make them feel safe to be themselves at work.
Your identity as a Muslim will inevitably play a role if you are discriminated against, lean on this if this happens asking them to live up to their commitments in this instance.
It can be tempting to discuss Palestine as we would amongst our own circles, but keep in mind that different people have different starting points of knowledge. A good place to start is using tried and tested “comms lines” that are externally validated by well-respected bodies such as the United Nations. Examples of these include:
You will have many allies in the workplace and it’s important to know who they are. Seek out other Muslim or Palestinian colleagues as well as people of other faiths or none who share your sentiment.
If you have an anti-racism, diversity or equity team, they should have processes to help you, and if they are subject matter experts will also understand your position. If your line manager is supportive, have an open conversation with them about your wellbeing and any concerns you may have.
Work with your allies to understand the full picture in your workplace, support each other through any challenges and decide a unified approach.
If you have a discussion with anyone positive or otherwise, ensure to follow it up with an email using diplomatic and tried and tested “comms lines” (as mentioned in 4 above). If anything should come back to you, you have evidence of your discussions and can protect yourself accordingly. You can also use emails to flag any issues with the appropriate people without having to engage in a face-to-face discussion with people you may be uncomfortable with.
In verbal conversations, it is possible for an individual to misinterpret your words, gaslight you for raising the issue of Palestine and even penalise you in covert ways. Emails are a means of protection to ensure the conversation is documented and you receive a written response. If you need to have a verbal conversation, it may be best in a group setting or with an ally present.
You can find some examples of workplace email templates here: Palestine Workplace Template Emails
Emotions run high when we are seeing such injustice and dire need in Palestine, particularly with the Western media narratives and government leaders being complicit. Our anger and frustration has its place, but not in the workplace.
Be firm in your position, but always remain calm and professional. Project confidence through the strength of your words and demonstrate that you can do this as a well respected, intellectual and professional colleague.
Ultimately, we need to trust in Allah (SWT). There is always a risk that comes with standing in solidarity with Palestine, particularly in the west and within the current climate. The Palestinians are suffering more than we can possibly imagine. Our test is how we stand for justice on their behalf during this time, even when our reputation and livelihoods are on the line. Know that Allah is the best of providers, the one with all power and might, and trust that He will protect you.
Act with tact, tie your camel and trust in Allah. One day we will see a free Palestine inshaAllah, and no matter the outcome we will know that we have stood for justice with Allah on our side.
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