On Oct. 20, the Bronx Defenders’ Union-UAW Local 2325 issued a statement in support of Palestinians. The Bronx Defenders, a state and city funded legal services provider, self-defines as nonprofit Bronx public defenders “transforming how low-income people are represented in the justice system.”
The recent statement began, “We vehemently oppose the decades-long Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. In the last 13 days, Israel has made its genocidal intent in Gaza unequivocally clear.” The statement continued, “Israel’s genocidal rhetoric is only outmatched by its genocidal actions.
Israel has relentlessly attacked Gaza with over 6,000 airstrikes in 13 days, including the October 17 Israeli airstrike of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital that killed over 500 Palestinian hospital workers and civilians.” The statement noted, “we refuse to decontextualize these atrocities committed by Israel and we condemn any attempts to create false equivalencies between the oppressed and the oppressor. We recognize that 75 years of Israeli occupation and its apartheid laws are the root cause of the violence unfolding in Palestine. We understand that even acknowledging the suffering of the Palestinian people at our workplace can come with consequences.”
The New York Post reported that this past March, the Bronx Defenders’ Union was forced to issue an apology and $170,000 settlement for alleged discrimination against a Jewish staffer. Additionally, all employees were required to complete antisemitism training from the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
Referring to the legal settlement, “Recently, BxD 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. We recognize that our duty to speak out and defend Palestinians is deeply rooted in our commitment as public defenders and unionized workers.”
Many of Jewish attorneys who work in Bronx Housing Court were horrified by the union’s recent statement. “I’ve spoken to judges and attorneys, Jewish and non-Jewish. Everyone is outraged, angry, upset and scared. I don’t care if you believe in the Palestinian fight. This is different,” expressed one Jewish attorney. “Since courts cannot react to a statement not made in court, we don’t know what to do,” the attorney continued. “People don’t feel safe. How am I going to do a case with an attorney who is part of a union which believes I should be dead because I’m Jewish?”
Attorney Ita Flug stated, “It makes me uncomfortable. They published this statement on October 20th, well after the US State Department, CNN, New York Times and Wall Street Journal all retracted and said all evidence shows it was fired from within Gaza.” Flug continued, “There’s a paragraph that completely mocks the recent lawsuit settlement. For other religious or LGBTQ issues, it wouldn’t be tolerated. I don’t understand. When the victim is Jewish, it’s tolerated and laughed at. Possibly even worse, just silenced and ignored.”
Flug noted, “I found this letter so painful and hurtful. I have family members who were killed. I have a daughter, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nephews and friends in Israel. There’s not a single mention of the horrors, the most gruesome attacks on human life in our lifetime. Reports are still coming out uncovering more brutality. There’s no moral equivalent, it’s not a political issue, but a known terrorist organization committing brutal, unthinkable, unfathomable heinous acts.”
Flug added, “Am I supposed to go to court and just negotiate how much rent tenants owe, as if it didn’t happen? Jewish life at stake has no value to them. There’s no way they would take this stance if you replace the word Israel with anything else. It’s scary that somebody has such callous disregard for me and my family’s life.”
Flug questioned, “What purpose did this organization have putting out a statement? Their only purpose is inciting hate; nothing to do with what they do professionally.”
Attorney Heidi Broumand of Doyle & Broumand, LLP expressed, “Our role as attorneys is to create a unified environment free from prejudice and hatred. Unions or groups taking divisive positions and creating disharmony are doing a disservice to the entire legal community.” Broumand continued, “Like most prejudices, the one demonstrated by the letter makes no sense when subjected to close analysis and clearly originates from fear and ignorance.”
According to public IRS tax filings for 2020-2021, the Bronx Defenders Union received over $43 million in government grants from various New York City agencies including the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Human Resources Administration, and the Unified Court System; the Legal Aid Society; and the State of New York IOLA Fund.
The Change.org petition to defund the Bronx Defenders can be found at change.org/p/de-fund-the-bronx-defenders.
Judy Berger is The Jewish Link Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut community editor.