Founded in 1997, The Bronx Defenders (BxD) is a legal aid organization that defends underprivileged people in the name of justice and fairness, but they also have a documented history of antisemitism. On October 20, less than two weeks after Hamas launched the most horrific terrorist attacks against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, the BxD Union, which represents BxD employees, posted a statement on social media in support of Palestinians. The BxD Instagram post affirms that an “overwhelming majority” of the BxD Union members voted to release a statement “heeding the call of Palestinian trade unions (@workersinpalestine) to end all complicity with Israeli occupation.”
The statement, which was posted as slides and a letter, accuses Israel of “genocide,” “genocidal intent,” “genocidal rhetoric,” genocidal actions,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “apartheid.” It describes Israel as a country “whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.” Without mentioning the Hamas terror attacks that precipitated the war, the letter states, “We recognize that 75 years of Israeli occupation and its apartheid laws are the root cause of the violence unfolding in Palestine.”
The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA) of New York condemned the union’s statement in a letter sent to its members on November 1. It calls BxD Union’s statement an “anti-Semitic manifesto against both Israel and U.S. policies.” RSA explains, “It took three readings to confirm that no mention of Hamas attacks, killings, rapes or abductions were included in the union’s statement. ‘Surely,’ we initially thought, ‘we missed that.’ We did not. There is no mention of the violence that provoked Israel’s defense and response.”
RSA affirms that BxD “hides anti-Semitism and anti-Israel positions in a cloak of activism.” They also warn potential Jewish clients of BxD that “no litigant of Jewish heritage, or in fact any thoughtful New Yorker, appearing in a case opposite a lawyer represented by The Bronx Defenders Union should believe they are facing a well-intentioned and unbiased professional.”
To this day, the BxD Union has not condemned the Hamas terrorists who savagely killed over 1,400 innocent Israeli civilians on Saturday, October 7. They also do not acknowledge the approximately 240 civilian hostages that are being held in Gaza, 37 of whom are babies and children under the age of 18.
Ita Flug, an attorney specializing in landlord-tenant cases, and frequently an opposing counsel to BxD in such cases, said that BxD’s social media post “came out less than two weeks after the most brutal, horrific, repugnant, vile, abhorrent attack on human life in our lifetime ever took place… There was zero purpose in this agency putting out a statement with such complete callous disregard for human life, solely because the life was Jewish…It really hit me to the core.” She added, “There’s no reason for them to be involved in Middle East politics, other than to use it as a platform to incite antisemitic vile hate speech against Jews.”
The BxD Union’s October 20 statement claims that Israel killed 500 Palestinians at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, even though President Biden had announced two days earlier that Israel was not to blame for the rocket launch. U.S. intelligence assessed that it was a failed rocket launch from Palestinian militants. To date, the BxD Union has not retracted its statement.
Flug said, “Their statement serves no purpose other than to incite hate…They distorted the truth and the facts.” Addressing the accusation that Israel is apartheid, Flug said, “There are currently 10 members of the Knesset who are Arab. I mean, really? An apartheid state has Arabs serving in their government?”
BxD is involved with cases concerning child welfare, sex trafficking, foster care and housing. Flug stated, “They’re there to defend the underdog… the underprivileged, the hurt, the downtrodden, the abused. And October 7th happened and they’re going to support the other side?” She added, “They just lost so much credibility…They’re not even capable of properly representing tenants or anyone in family court because they just come across as ugly and violent at this point.”
Since the BxD Union’s anti-Israel statement, Flug and other Jewish (and non-Jewish) attorneys say they feel extremely uncomfortable having to see them in the Bronx Housing Civil Court every week. She said she wouldn’t want to be a Jewish client of theirs.
Over the past 10 years, BxD has received more than $300 million in city and state funding. An online petition, “Defund the Bronx Defenders,” is being pushed by former New York State Assemblyman and founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, Dov Hikind, to urge NY Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams to immediately stop funding BxD.
“I do not want my tax dollars to go for hate,” Hikind said. “If you want to really teach them a lesson. take away their money…. There are consequences for inaction, and consequences for being silent. When you are silent, you are acquiescing.”
Hikind added, “If this hate was directed against any other group, things would be happening, But Jews, you know, they get away with it.”
Two years ago, Hikind supported and advised Debbie Jonas, an American-Israeli attorney who was employed by BxD for eight years, until she left the job due to what she felt was a hostile work environment.
Jonas described how passionate Jonas had been about being a family defense staff attorney at BxD, and how much she loved the courtroom experience. “I felt a surge of pride…. My job is to defend people, to right injustices, and I was so proud of it and I loved it so much.” In May 2021, she traveled to Jerusalem and was having coffee with a friend when sirens went off and she had to hide in a bomb shelter. She was able to get internet service, and saw a company-wide email to approximately 400 employees, professing BxD’s solidarity with Palestinians, who they claimed were being “ethnically cleansed.”
Jonas described the email as “vitriolic… it was so unbalanced and devoid of context and nuance, and I was so upset by it.” She said she politely replied, sending articles to educate them about an alternate perspective. When the story got picked up in the media, and Jonas disclosed that she felt strongly about this issue because she had kids who lived in Israel and had served in the army, “that’s when the floodgates opened. That’s when I started to get these very vicious personal attacks: ‘You’re a Karen’; ‘You’re a racist’; ‘Your kids are murderers.’ And that’s when I quit.”
She was told not to go to the office to pick up her personal belongings because her personal safety could not be guaranteed.
Jonas’s attorney told her she had a strong case, but her objective wasn’t to sue BxD. “I didn’t want to hurt them,” she said, “I tried to help them.” She settled out of court for $170,000, all of which went to Israel charities and legal fees. BxD had to pay her legal expenses, issue an apology, and undergo antisemitism training at The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which they mocked in their October 20 statement.
Jonas explained that “the fact that they’ve become so politicized has detracted from their ability to do their job…. nobody takes them seriously anymore. The judges can’t stand them, the other lawyers can’t stand them…They’re so focused on defending terrorism that they’re not focused on defending their clients… They have completely betrayed their mandate. They have completely betrayed their mission statement. and they have completely betrayed the taxpayers for contributing $50 million a year.”
In light of BxD’s reaction to the terror attacks in Israel, Jonas stated, “Honestly, with the wisdom of hindsight, I wish I had sued them. I wish I had been more aggressive… My intention to improve them is like trying to improve Hamas… you can’t.”
Governor Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, and Speaker of the NY Assembly Carl Heastie have not replied to a request for comment.