Two Pro-Palestine New Yorkers Talk About What It’s Like to Be Doxxed
"If everyone who is targeted is silenced, then oppression is ongoing and unchecked—and for Palestinian people, this oppression has been ongoing and unchecked for over 75 years."
5:43 PM EDT on November 3, 2023
Beth, whose name has been changed for privacy, heard about the posters online before she saw them in person: flyers featuring a photo, name, and age of someone who's believed to be one of the approximately 200 to 250 hostages currently held captive by Hamas, under a bright red banner that declares each individual "KIDNAPPED."
The artists who created the posters have said in interviews that they were born as an expression of grief—but as they appeared throughout the city, some pro-Palestine activists felt they'd taken on a different meaning. "I do a lot of activism, especially in the last five years, so I'm in a bunch of group chats, and someone, I think with Jewish Voice for Peace, brought up the fact that these posters are popping up," Beth told Hell Gate. That activist said that to them, these posters were "propaganda designed to manufacture consent for the bombing of Gaza." So, when Beth happened upon a cluster of these posters in New York City, she took them down. Minutes later, she was still standing near the place where she'd taken down the posters when she was confronted by an irate woman. The woman recorded herself yelling at Beth, who quickly walked away from the angry stranger.
She didn't think much of the interaction, but then that video of Beth was posted online by the group StopAntisemitism, which describes itself as a "grassroots watchdog organization" and regularly posts similar videos of people tearing down the hostage signs. After that video went viral, Beth said she became one of a small but growing number of New Yorkers who've been doxxed after removing those posters or for posting pro-Palestinian sentiments on social media. She said she received death threats across all of her social media platforms, venomous texts and phone calls from strangers, and that people contacted her workplace demanding that she be fired. Beth feels lucky, she said, that unlike some other doxxing victims, she still has her job.
So does Mohammad Jehad Ahmad, a Palestinian American math teacher at Gotham Tech High School who told Hell Gate he's been weathering a similar surge of digital hate ever since the New York Post published an article featuring one of his tweets. That tweet criticized an internal email from Department of Education Chancellor David Banks, whom Ahmad called "a white supremacist, imperialist scumbag." From there, Fox News and the Daily Mail wrote articles about Ahmad, and the New York Post has since published two follow-up stories about him. Ahmad said that all of that news coverage has incited death threats and calls for his firing; someone even posted a since-deleted tweet with his home address. "I got messages like, 'You should be deported,' or, 'You should go back to where you came from,' which is silly because I'm American," Ahmad said.
Hell Gate spoke with both Beth and Ahmad about what it's felt like to be part of a wave of backlash against people expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments, the kinds of harassment they've received, and why they don't regret taking action and speaking out.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
It happened on a Saturday, and then the harassment started on Sunday. I didn't leave my house looking for posters to take down; I was out, on the way to meet up with friends for dinner. I saw six or so flyers, and I took them down.
I was explaining to people who saw what I did why I was taking them down, because people came up to ask me questions. Less than five minutes after I took down the posters, this guy came up and was talking to me as if he was curious, but then a woman approached, and as she approached, his demeanor switched—they were clearly together. In retrospect, it feels like he was intentionally stalling me for her to approach.
She comes up and she's filming and she grabs the flyers out of my hand and starts screaming. For a second, I was just thinking, "Oh, this person is upset. Understandable." I started to engage with her, but she's just yelling and screaming insults, so I'm like, "Oh, OK, she's not trying to have an interaction with me, she's trying to provoke me to do something on camera." That was my interpretation. So I was like, if that's the goal, I'm just going to leave, because I don't need that in my life, so I left.
And in my mind, I was like, "Oh, she was trying to bait me into some interesting interaction, something more than just walking away, but that didn't happen. It's just a video of me getting yelled at. Whatever." So, I just went about my day, like, that was a negative interaction, oh well. It's New York, people have negative interactions! People are allowed to be mad at me, people are allowed to yell. I didn't think there was anything interesting enough on the video to matter.
I didn't check the timestamps, but given the timeline of the doxxing, they had to have gone home and posted the video pretty immediately to StopAntisemitism, within an hour. The idea that this was an authentic interaction, that this person saw me taking them down, got really upset, and took a video and asked friends where to post it—that doesn't make sense given the speed that it spread.
I woke up the next morning, and there were messages on my Facebook, Instagram, and then by noon, my job had been contacted, and my workplace called me on the weekend and was like, "What's going on? What's happening?" because they were getting inundated.
By the next day, people had gotten my work email and phone number, so then I started getting messages in addition to social media—people calling my phone, or texting, or sending WhatsApp messages. I never answered any of them. And then at work, some were just emailing me, but lots of them were emailing me and every person whose email you could get from my job's website, random coworkers, going down the list of staff. Just demanding that I be fired, because I'm an evil monster who's clearly antisemitic and hates babies. They were very angry emails, so much harassment.
Since it was so crazy, my work told me to stay home, because people were making threats and had the address, so my job wasn't sure if people were going to come to the building. They had my home address, too, so it was nerve-wracking to take my daughter to school in the morning.
Sunday and Monday were the peak of the harassment, and then by the end of Tuesday, it was clearly calming down. By Friday, it was just the occasional email. They also, apparently, were all over my work's social media, so they had to lock the whole thing.
When it was happening, it felt like everyone hated me—but now that it's calmed down and I'm looking around, people have been supportive, with one minor exception. My boss said that no actual stakeholders have expressed anything to my workplace—and my workplace is in a Jewish community, so there are stakeholders and neighbors who logically could have cared, but that isn't where the pushback was coming from. When I was getting phone calls and could see area codes, I was getting calls from Australia—it was this huge wave of hatred and energy, but in terms of my coworkers, my friends, nobody who's a part of my community got upset with me or my employer.
I think one thing people don't understand about this doxxing behavior is how much it's an intentional attack designed to harm people who are behaving in ways you disagree with. It's not a natural expression of what happened—this is a strategy being used to find people who are pro-Palestine and cause them immense harm as a form of collective punishment.
In my head, taking these posters down wasn't a political action. If I see things I perceive as being hateful, or not improving our community, I try to take it down. That's just something I do in the world. If I see antisemitic graffiti, I try to take that down too. I remember one time on the subway, I saw someone had written "Jews control the media" on the platform, and I had my "I voted" stickers still in my purse, so I used my stickers to try and cover up at least enough words to obscure the message. For me, this situation was the same logic.
Nothing about this doxxing experience has made me think that those posters are an earnest attempt to uplift the victims of the terrorist attack in Israel, or about people expressing their grief. These posters are clearly deeply harmful, and if I believe something is deeply harmful, for me to say that I should have just left it up because I personally didn't want to risk consequences…No. I'm not a coward. But do I wish that moment hadn't happened? Definitely.
Mohammad Jehad Ahmad
I'm a Palestinian American—my parents are Palestinian, but we're Palestinians of 1948, so my dad has visited in his adult life, but my mom has never been to Palestine and I've never been. So, with this background, when the events of October 7 happened and then there was indiscriminate retaliation against civilians, we received an email the next Tuesday morning from the chancellor of the Education Department that was, in my perception, echoing the mayor's sentiment that was very Zionist, very pro-Israel, and very dehumanizing to Palestinians. I felt like, "Now I'm even being targeted at work."
I screenshotted the email, and in my anger and frustration, I tweeted a condemnation of the chancellor on October 10. I don't have any kind of platform—I think I had, at that point, 100 followers. It was just me venting into the ether. But I guess somebody at the New York Post was trolling through Twitter, because they wrote an article that Saturday about the DOE's reaction and they used my tweet calling the chancellor out for his Zionism in that article because they didn't have access to the email otherwise. That's what set it off.
The Post trolled through my social media accounts, managed to look through my Facebook and find the one or two things that happened to be public. The next day, Fox News wrote an article about me, the Daily Mail wrote an article about me, and it became national and international, and that's when the harassment and the death threats started. I received messages through all my social media platforms and at least one person called my personal phone. After speaking to lawyers, they told me to just let it die, but every Sunday since that first article, the New York Post has written a new article about me, which just renews the targeted attacks.
I think the Post is targeting me for a few reasons. I believe there's a coordinated campaign to silence people who are anti-Zionist. I think that there is a deliberate attempt to conflate Zionism and Judaism, which is not true, and to say that if someone is anti-Zionist, they're antisemitic, which is not accurate—Judaism is the faith, Zionism is a political ideology, and they're totally independent of each other. In targeting me as a public school teacher, I think they're trying to silence me and make an example out of me. The Post contacted my school, harassed my principal, and for the second article, I found out they had come to my school's PTA meeting. My school had to shut down its Twitter account and Facebook page.
That first week, I was bombarded with gruesome death threats, pages and pages, targeted at me, my wife, and my two-year-old son. Things like, "I'm gonna kill you and your family," sending me vulgar pictures, images of death saying, "This is what we're going to do to you." Eventually, I locked down everything, and that really helped my mental health.
Most recently, somebody doxxed my home address on Twitter. I reported it, and I had friends and family report it, but it was up for 20 hours. The tweet wasn't viewed very many times, but I was counting the minutes to see when it would get taken down, so now there's this anxiety that my address, directly tied to me, was out there—and the person who tweeted it said, "You know what needs to be done," which is basically a call for violence.
The problem has now become that whenever the New York Post tweets a new article about me, the Twitter replies and Facebook comments are where the death threats live—it was a reply to the New York Post that had my address. So, now, they're not targeting me directly anymore, but trolls are tweeting at the article with personal information and death threats and calls for violence against me.
I don't regret tweeting at the chancellor, because it needed to be said. People need to speak. If everyone who is targeted is silenced, then oppression is ongoing and unchecked—and for Palestinian people, this oppression has been ongoing and unchecked for over 75 years. Tweeting, that's the bare minimum; people are losing their lives. If it wasn't for my wife and son, I don't know that I'd even be nervous, but I worry about the wellbeing of my family. That's the thing that's most anxiety-inducing to me.
Every single person in my life has been supportive. No one that I work with has expressed that something that I said has upset them or frustrated them, which is refreshing. I recognize that if someone is not confrontational, they probably wouldn't just come to me and tell me that, but a significant number of my colleagues have either said, "You have the right to say what you need to say," and some have outright said they fully agree with me.
In moments of darkness for me, I got to see some things that made me feel better—wiping down my desks, students would write "Free Palestine" in pencil on the desks. I know it's graffiti, and these are public school desks, so there's stuff all over, but in their own way, kids are resisting. And directly to me, students have checked in on my wellbeing, saying, "Are you OK? Is everything OK?" In class, because I'm a math teacher, a student said, "Throw me a ruler," and I said, "I'm not trying to be in the New York Post again," and the kids laughed—we all get it.
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