A Veterans Affairs employee whose video mocking Israeli hostages caused outrage on social media has been required to undergo counseling for the incident but was not fired, department officials said Friday.
Shekeba Morrad, an appellate attorney for VA’s Office of the General Counsel, had been embroiled in controversy since November, when she posted a video on social media which appeared to mock Israeli citizens worried about hostages taken by Hamas militants in October attacks.
After quick condemnation of her action, the video was removed from public sites. But several conservative activists saved and reposted it, leading to wider criticism of her and the department.
In a statement Friday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough called Morrad’s video “inaccurate, abhorrent, and insensitive.” Morrad was instructed to undergo counseling, then completed required harassment prevention and accountability training in response to the incident.
“Let me be clear: I condemn antisemitism in the strongest terms possible. It is inconsistent with our core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence,” McDonough said.
“There’s no space at VA for hate, not least because it hinders our ability to care for veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors who represent every race, creed, gender and belief and who swore an oath to defend the Constitution.”
VA officials noted, however, that past court rulings have established that federal employees have a right to express personal opinions, provided they do so on personal time and without identification as a federal employee.
Still, numerous Republican lawmakers called for severe action against Morrad in light of the video.
“This is unacceptable,” wrote Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a social media post sharing Morrad’s video. “Antisemitism has no place at the VA and this behavior should not be tolerated. (McDonough) should remove this employee immediately.”
In a letter to McDonough last month, 18 House Republicans called the behavior reprehensible and criticized the slow response of the department to the controversy.
“We are worried VA’s investigation, like many of its investigations the committee has performed oversight of, will be untimely and result in minimal consequences,” they wrote. “Ms. Morrad’s conduct was abhorrent and has no place at VA.”
Morrad is not a supervisor for any other VA employees and is a career staffer, not a political appointee. Department leaders said they regularly requires training to prevent harassment while supporting inclusion in the workforce.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.