“The Bronx Defenders is a public defender nonprofit that is radically transforming how low-income people in the Bronx are represented in the justice system and, in doing so, is transforming the system itself,” or so the website of this 501c3 in New York City says, long holding itself out to be a public defenders office that not only provides individualized defense to clients facing the criminal and civil legal systems but also one that seeks to transform those oppressive systems entirely. Putting aside the fact that the legal system will never be a tool of liberation for our clients, but rather will always function to oppress people of color, low-income communities, and/or immigrants in the United States — even if public defender organizations could transform these systems, the executives and management across the board fail to do so again and again, endangering clients and staff. Within the context of Palestinian liberation, The Bronx Defenders’ management and Board of Directors have done just that.
The Board of Directors is filled with partners from various corporate law firms across New York — the very same firms that signed a letter asking law school deans to silence anti-war and pro-Palestinian protestors. These include Akin Gump, Cleary Gottlieb, Paul Weiss, and Covington, to name a few. It should be no surprise that Zionists take issue with and seek to silence staff members alongside law students. It should be no surprise that Zionists are keenly interested in maintaining systems of oppression while touting themselves as social justice-adjacent. And it should be no surprise that the management at The Bronx Defenders seeks to do the same.
So, what follows is a timeline of the Bronx Defenders’ upper management attempting to silence underpaid and overworked staff who tirelessly fight for their clients against the very systems upper management apparently seek to uphold.
On March 8, 2023, news of the Bronx Defenders’ settlement with a Zionist ex-staff member reached current staff. Staff replied organization-wide, seeking to vocalize anger over the settlement, concerns of a mandatory Zionist training led by the Brandeis Center, and frustration over management’s lack of transparency regarding the settlement. Soon after, management limited access to the organization-wide listserv, citing internal communication policies as the reason for the ban.
On the same day, thousands of Palestinians in Jenin took part in the funeral procession of five Palestinians killed in a brutal Israeli military raid the day before.
On the same day, thousands of Palestinians in Nablus took part in the funeral procession of Abdel-Fattah Kharrusha, who was killed in a brutal Israeli military raid the day before in Jenin refugee camp.
On the same day, Israeli colonizers attacked Palestinians in Hebron, including a minor.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces detained a Palestinian minor in occupied Jerusalem.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces demolished Palestinian residential structures in the occupied village of Al-Naqab’s Bir Hadaj.
On the same day, Israel returned the body of Palestinian martyr, Mohammad Abu Kafia, which the state withheld from family for 6 months.
By March 8, 2023, 73 Palestinians had been murdered and 2,245 Palestinians had been injured by the Israeli Apartheid regime since the beginning of 2023.
On September 7, 2023, The Bronx Defenders forced staff to attend a pro-Zionism training, led by the Brandeis Center, and framed by The Bronx Defenders management as an Anti-Semitism Training due to a lawsuit. Staff members bravely and consistently disrupted the training to vocalize their anger at being force-fed Zionism.
On the same day, Israeli occupation authorities forced a Palestinian man to self-demolish his own shop in the town of Silwan.
On the same day, Israeli occupation authorities notified at least 40 Palestinian-owned residential and agricultural facilities in the town of Duma of their upcoming demolition.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces broke into and damaged the Bab al-Rahma Prayer Hall in Al-Aqsa.
On the same day, Israeli settlers set fire to the land surrounding the village of Madama, south of Nablus.
On the same day, Israel released a Palestinian teenager, Bissan Obaid, who was kidnapped the day before by undercover Israeli forces in occupied Jerusalem.
On the same day, an Israeli Occupation Court renewed the solitary confinement of Palestinian prisoner, Ayham Kamamji, until March 26, 2024.
On the same day, administratively detained Palestinian prisoner, Kayed Fasfous, entered his 36th day of his hunger strike.
On the same day, armed Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the village of Kisan, south of Bethlehem.
By September 7, 2023, 222 Palestinians had been murdered and 8,213 had been injured by the Israeli Apartheid regime since the beginning of 2023.
On September 8, 2023, The Bronx Defenders’ Executive Director, Justine Olderman, sought to shame staff who did the very thing they were hired to do: speak out and fight against systems of oppression, which are painfully intertwined with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In her email, Olderman scolded staff and referred to peaceful disruptions as “not appropriate or acceptable behavior,” failing to consider that 75 years of ethnic cleansing — and an organization like the Brandeis Center that is committed to upholding that ethnic cleansing — is far more unacceptable than protests conducted by staff. Following her email, The Bronx Defenders management again shut down organization-wide internal communications and emails to ensure staff could not speak against Olderman or vocalize their anger regarding the mandatory training.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces assaulted a group of Palestinian activists in Sheikh Jarrah.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces stormed the village of Kafr Rumman, north of the occupied West Bank, and fired live ammunition at Palestinians.
On the same day, Israeli settlers raised banners praising the perpetrator of the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre and the perpetrator of the deadly arson attack on the Palestinian Dawabsha family in 2015 during a demonstration in Jerusalem.
On the same day, reports cited that an Israeli settler in the Al-Aqsa compound shot a 65-year-old Palestinian woman.
By September 8, 2023, 222 Palestinians had been murdered and 8,240 had been injured by the Israeli Apartheid regime since the beginning of 2023.
On October 7, 2023, Israel worsened a 75-year-long violent and horrific campaign against Palestinians. Since October 7, Israel has continuously bombed and besieged Gaza in a violent campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Israeli Apartheid regime has killed and injured tens of thousands of Palestinians, arbitrarily detained thousands, and displaced over a million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
On October 18, 2023, The Bronx Defenders’ unionized staff took up the call of Palestinian trade unionists for statements of international solidarity. Unionized staff drafted and internally shared a version of The Bronx Defenders Union — UAW LOCAL 2325 Statement in Support of Palestinians. Within hours of sharing said draft, General Counsel of the Bronx Defenders, Johanna B. Steinberg, issued a cease and desist, stating that “use of BxD’s name in the proposed statement about Israel and Palestine is unauthorized and BxD will enforce its trademark rights” and that if the union “[did] not cease and desist these unlawful activities, BxD will consider all available legal resources against the union.” The Bronx Defenders management pulled an anti-union strategy directly from Starbucks’ union-busting tactics, threatening a lawsuit if we did not silence ourselves. The alleged unlawful activity from the cease and desist was “issuing a statement concerning Palestine and Israel.”
On the same day, Israel entered its 12th day in a row of ongoing airstrikes on besieged Gaza, including southern Gaza. Israel attacked hospitals, bakeries, schools, and residential homes in Gaza and killed 678 Palestinians in Gaza in the previous 24 hours alone.
On the same day, the Attorney General of Israel approved banning Al Jazeera from reporting in occupied Palestine.
On the same day, violent confrontations erupted against Palestinians by Israeli occupiers in Hebron and simultaneously in Bethlehem.
On the same day, Israeli occupation forces killed two Palestinian youths west of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
By October 18, 2023, Israel had killed at least 68 Palestinians and injured at least 1,400 Palestinians in the West Bank and ’48 since October 7, 2023 alone.
By October 18, 2023, Israel had killed at least 3,478 Palestinians and injured at least 12,500 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7, 2023 alone.
At least 1,200 Palestinians in Gaza remained missing under the rubble, including 600 children and in the previous week, Israeli settlers forced hundreds of Palestinians to flee East Ramallah.
On October 20, 2023, union members voted on and passed The Bronx Defenders Union — UAW LOCAL 2325 Statement in Support of Palestinians. The vote passed 148–30, with over half of union membership voting in favor of the statement, showcasing the largest voter turnout in union history.
On the same day, Israel entered its 14th day in a row of ongoing airstrikes on besieged Gaza. On the same day, hundreds of Egyptian protesters tried to enter the Rafah border crossing to press for the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces banned Muslims from entering Al-Aqsa for Friday prayers, assaulting and arresting many worshippers.
On the same day, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that 7 hospitals and 21 primary care health centers in Gaza were out of service due to Israel’s genocidal campaign.
On the same day, Israel ordered the evacuation of Al Quds Hospital, where 400 patients were being treated and nearly 12,000 displaced civilians were taking refuge.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces withdrew from Nur Shams camp after a 24-hour military raid, in which they killed 13 Palestinians.
By October 20, 2023, Israel had killed at least 85 Palestinians and injured at least 1,700 Palestinians in the West Bank and ’48 since October 7, 2023 alone.
By October 20, 2023, Israel had killed at least 4,200 Palestinians and injured at least 13,400 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7, 2023 alone.
At least 1,200 Palestinians in Gaza remained missing under the rubble, including 720 children.
On November 3, 2023, Executive Director Justine Olderman again sought to shame unionized staff for the pro-Palestine statement. Olderman expressed that she was “deeply saddened and pained by the decision of the union to issue the statement it did.” Next, Olderman blamed the union’s statement for backlash advocates may face against indigent clients, rather than blaming, say, the Zionists themselves. She stated, “the statement has also caused grave risk to the organization and our ability to serve the people who need our representation.” Staff members responded to her email. Immediately after, the management at the Bronx Defenders, for the third time, shut down the listservs and cut out colleagues’ ability to send organization-wide and practice-wide emails. Within 57 minutes of Olderman’s email, General Counsel Steinberg reminded staff that “violations of the [organization’s communication] policy will be enforced.”
On the same day, Israel entered its 28th day in a row of ongoing airstrikes on besieged Gaza. On the same day, Israel bombed a UNRWA school.
On the same day, Israel bombed the entrance of Al-Shifa hospital.
On the same day, Israel admitted to targeting ambulances in Gaza.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces blew up a house in Jenin refugee camp.
On the same day, Israeli occupation Forces destroyed a Palestinian-owned apartment in Nablus.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces detained a number of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces assaulted a Palestinian young man in Jenin.
One the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces shot at a group of Palestinians trying to help a young man injured during a military raid in Jenin.
On the same day, Israeli Occupation Forces killed 9 Palestinians during mass raids across the occupied West Bank.
On the same day, Palestinian workers from Gaza detained by Israel described the abuse, humiliation, and torture they endured for four weeks after being detained in response to October 7.
By November 3, 2023, Israel had killed at least 124 Palestinians and injured at least 2,200 Palestinians in the West Bank and ’48 since October 7, 2023 alone.
By November 3, 2023, Israel had killed at least 9,200 Palestinians, including 43 journalists, and injured at least 23,000 Palestinians since October 7, 2023 alone.
At least 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza remained missing under the rubble, including 1,200 children.
On November 15, 2023, management at the Bronx Defenders sent emails to select vocal staff warning them that their responses to Olderman’s November 3rd email were violations of internal communications policies because they were not work-related. They noted that “any further violations of this policy may result in corrective action.” The staff emails in question vocalized unequivocal support for Palestine and for the union’s statement. Management also threatened those who had unsent drafts in their mailboxes, showing that their email surveillance extended well beyond sent. In fact, management admitted to running a search of staff emails, the results of which included drafts and sent emails. Within two hours of sending these threats, the Bronx Defenders issued a counterstatement, “entirely seperat[ing]” the union from the Bronx Defenders and citing that it “did not approve . . . . and played no part in the drafting or publication” of the union’s statement. Some union members believe the threat of corrective action was intentionally sent prior to releasing the counterstatement to prevent staff from sending organization-wide emails vocalizing anger about the counterstatement.
On the same day, Israel entered its 40th day in a row of ongoing airstrikes on besieged Gaza, including southern Gaza. Airstrikes have targeted food supplies, medical supplies, government buildings, residential homes, masjids, churches, hospitals, flour mills, schools, refugee camps, and bakeries.
On the same day, Minister Ben Gvir instructed jailers to worsen conditions of detainees in Ofer prison, saying “they do not deserve to see the sun.”
On the same day, Israeli police and settlers invaded the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem to confiscate Palestinian land, claiming they had permission by an Israeli court.
On the same day, Israeli forces dropped smoke and phosphorus bombs on residential areas in Beit Lahya in northern Gaza.
On the same day, Israeli forces kidnapped 15 female students at the University of Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
On the same day, the Head of the Emergency Department at Al-Shifa Hospital reported that many displaced people seeking refuge in Al-Shifa were blindfolded, stripped, and taken to an unknown destination by the Israeli army.
On the same day, Israeli forces opened fire on displaced Palestinians waving white flags as they tried to leave Al-Shifa, after demanding they leave Al-Shifa.
As of today, November 17, 2023, in 2023 alone, the Israeli government, occupation forces, and settlers have killed at least 11,500 Palestinians in Gaza and 320 Palestinians in the West Bank and ’48. The Israeli government, occupation forces, and settlers have injured at least 29,000 Palestinians in Gaza and at least 11,200 in the West Bank and ’48. The Israeli government has arbitrarily detained over 5,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, ’48, and Gaza. Israel has displaced over 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.5 million in Gaza. At least 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza remain missing under the rubble, including 1,500 children.
Update: As of the date of publishing, December 15, 2023, Israel has entered its 70th day of bombing Gaza. In 2023 alone, the Israeli government, occupation forces, and settlers have killed at least 24,700 Palestinians in Gaza and 485 Palestinians in the West Bank and ’48. The Israeli government, occupation forces, and settlers have injured at least 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza and at least 12,300 in the West Bank and ’48. Israel has displaced over 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.8 million in Gaza. At least 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza remain missing under the rubble, including 1,500 children. These numbers are conservative estimates.
While world and institutional leaders turn a blind eye and attempt to silence Palestinians, millions take up the Palestinian call to protest and speak out against Palestinian suffering. There are no words to vocalize the horrors Palestinians are facing. There are no words to describe the genocide Palestinians are enduring. There are no words to describe the strength of the Palestinian people, of their love for humanity, of their resistance.
Liberation is inevitable for Palestinians just as it was for every previously-colonized people. And when Palestine is free, from the river to the sea, it will be Palestinian strength, Palestinian voices, and Palestinian resistance that freed Palestine. May we witness it within our lifetimes.