By CHUCK BENNETT
August 14, 2007 -- A Jewish educator who can't utter a phrase of Arabic has been tapped to head the city's controversial Arabic-themed school, officials announced yesterday.
In a shocking move, the Department of Education named Danielle Salzberg interim acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn. Salzberg will replace Debbie Almontaser, who resigned under pressure last Friday because of her remarks to The Post defending "Intifada NYC" T-shirts.
Before her appointment, Salzberg was a senior program officer with the nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools, which is partially funding the academy. In that role, Salzberg worked with Almontaser and the school's six teachers to develop its specialized curriculum of Arabic language and culture.
Previously, Salzberg helped launch the new Baruch HS, where she was an English teacher, and Millennium HS, where she was assistant principal until March. She first started teaching at city schools in December 1996.
Salzberg, 35, is not an Arabic speaker, said Department of Education spokeswoman Debra Wexler. A source with direct knowledge confirmed that Salzberg is Jewish but did not have details on how observant she is.
Meanwhile, Almontaser said her own religion, Islam, not her failure to condemn the "Intifada NYC" T-shirts, led to the ouster, according to her resignation letter obtained by The Post.
"Unfortunately, a small group of highly misguided individuals has launched a relentless attack on me because of my religion," Almontaser wrote to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein last Friday. "They have used my religion as the pretext to undermine the Academy and have taken my words out of context to distort my record and portray me as something that I am not."
The Department of Education had refused to release the letter.
Almontaser became a lightning rod of public criticism last week after The Post published her comments regarding "Intifada NYC" T-shirts sold by an Arab women's activist group that shares office space with a group she helps lead.
"The word [intifada] basically means 'shaking off,' " she said. While acknowledging its "negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas," she said she thought the shirt was not intended to spark violence but inspire girls to shake off "oppression."
After an uproar, Almontaser backtracked, calling the shirt "completely inappropriate," but the damage was done.
Mayor Bloomberg yesterday said it was best for Almontaser to step down because "she was becoming an issue" but supported the school.