(JNS) Nearly 700 people have signed a petition calling on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to defund the Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit legal aid group that they say is antisemitic.
In an Oct. 20 statement—nearly two weeks after Hamas terrorists massacred more than 1,400 people in Israel on Oct. 7—the union representing Bronx Defenders workers, UAW Local 2325, referred to “the decades-long Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
“Israel’s genocidal rhetoric is only outmatched by its genocidal actions,” the union stated. “We refuse to decontextualize these atrocities committed by Israel, and we condemn any attempts to create false equivalencies between the oppressed and the oppressor.”
The nearly 700-word statement did not mention the Oct. 7 attacks, and the only references to Hamas came in headlines and news article links in attached footnotes.
“The letter from the Bronx Defenders Union was devoid of a single reference to the atrocities committed by Hamas,” per the petition. “The morally repugnant author of the Bronx Defenders’ ‘Statement in Support of Palestine’ clearly spelled out their antisemitic agenda by mocking the antisemitism sensitivity training they were ‘coerced’ into attending following a very recent lawsuit settlement.”
“We understand that even acknowledging the suffering of the Palestinian people at our workplace can come with consequences,” the union wrote in the statement, noting that Bronx Defenders staff “were subjected to a settlement agreement, approved by the board of directors and without consent of the union, that forced all-staff participation with the Louis D. Brandeis Center, an organization that is proudly Zionist and that describes ‘anti-Israelism on university campuses’ as the ‘leading civil and human rights challenge.’”
“Despite these attempts at silencing support for Palestinians, we will not be intimidated,” the union stated. “We recognize that our duty to speak out and defend Palestinians is deeply rooted in our commitment as public defenders and unionized workers.”
Both the city and state of New York have provided more than $300 million to Bronx Defenders in the past decade “to represent poor defendants in criminal and civil cases,” the New York Post reported.
The petition calling for Bronx Defenders to be defunded notes that “the referenced settlement was reached less than a year ago in a lawsuit brought by a former employee of the Bronx Defenders, Debbie Jonas, after enduring years of antisemitic abuse and attacks by her co-workers and supervisors.” The nonprofit reached a $170,000 settlement, including attorney fees, with Jonas in March.
Per her complaint, Jonas was “cursed at and badgered” after she told Bronx Defenders that its letter calling Israel genocidal was antisemitic. She further alleged that colleagues called her children—some of whom served in the Israel Defense Forces—murderers.
“I anticipate some good conversation, and I hope it will be a worthwhile learning experience,” Alyza D. Lewin, president and general counsel of the Brandeis Center, told JNS at the time about the antisemitism training for Bronx Defenders staff.