Forced to resign over Palestine
An NYC public defender responds
A pro-Palestine attorney resigned after she was filmed and doxxed for attending a vigil for Gaza and threatened with termination by her workplace.
On November 7, a New York City public defender was forced out of her position at New York County Defender Services (NYCDS) after the New York Post shared a video of her attending a vigil for victims of Israel’s war on Gaza. In the video, posted by the zionist group StopAntisemitism, the cameraperson accuses her of tearing down posters of Israeli hostages; in fact, the posters had just been put up by a group of counter-protesters, who began heckling and harassing vigil-goers. The posters themselves featured statements “justifying the bombing of Palestinian civilians.” At the time of the vigil, the death toll among Gazans had surpassed ten thousand (as of this writing, the death toll has doubled to nearly twenty thousand).
Based on the misleading video, zionists launched a change.org petition calling for the public defender’s termination from NYCDS. She was harassed over the phone, online, and in three additional New York Post articles about the incident. In response, NYCDS threatened to fire her. She resigned instead.
Below, we share her resignation letter.
This incident is part of a disturbing trend in which New York public defense organizations have cracked down on solidarity with Palestine in and out of the workplace, equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Last month, members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, United Auto Workers Local 2325 (which previously passed a resolution in favor of divestment from Israeli bonds) debated a resolution calling for a ceasefire, an end to Israeli apartheid, and an end to the occupation of Palestine. In response, the heads of several legal service organizations attempted to intimidate union members before they had even voted, issuing internal cease-and-desist letters to staff who discussed Israel/Palestine at work and citing threats by private donors to pull funding if the resolution passed. The Legal Aid Society went further, issuing a public statement that decried the resolution’s language as “antisemitic” and holding a town hall in an effort to influence the vote.
Meanwhile, pro-Israel attorneys at Legal Aid of Nassau County secured a temporary restraining order to stop their own union from voting on the resolution. Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of the union’s attorneys, union members, and supporters who mobilized to the court hearings, a federal court dissolved the restraining order, allowing the vote to proceed, with union members passing the resolution on December 19 in a landslide of 1,067 to 570.
The struggle continues to resist managers’ and zionist funders’ efforts to silence solidarity with Palestine and assert workers’ right to speak out against atrocities committed by the Israeli government with the support of the U.S.
To My Colleagues at New York County Defender Services [NYCDS]:
I regretfully write this letter to announce my resignation from this office. NYCDS was my first home as a public defender, and I have worked here now for three years, alongside all of you, whose dedication I respect tremendously. I am honored to have represented hundreds of clients who have trusted me in their most vulnerable moments. I am lucky to have done this work with you, and I love being a public defender.
Last Friday, I concluded a jury trial at NYCDS, and was so happy that we obtained an acquittal for our client. That night, after we received our verdict, I worked an arraignment shift. On Saturday night, I found myself unexpectedly subjected to a ruthless online doxxing campaign, based on serious misrepresentations about private political activity I engaged in with absolutely no intention of drawing attention to myself or implicating my workplace. And by Monday, after over 24 hours of pressure from NYCDS management, who were uninterested in hearing about my side of events, I submitted my notice of resignation from this job and organization that I love and was prepared to dedicate many more years to. I can’t believe this is where things stand—the last thing I ever wanted to do was to leave this organization. With this resignation I would like to give a fuller picture of what has happened over the last 48 hours, and why I am leaving NYCDS.
Last week, I attended a vigil to mourn the lives of the many thousands of Palestinian civilians that have been killed over this past month. As the vigil was going on and people were reading names of those who have died, a group of agitators arrived and began heckling those of us there mourning. The person who took the video of me was among this group. The group began putting up posters around the vigil. I saw that one of the posters contained handwritten statements justifying the bombing of Palestinian civilians—the same people whose deaths we were there to mourn. I was deeply offended by the statements on the poster, and went over to take that poster down. At that point, the individual from the group approached me and started recording the video, verbally misrepresenting on the video what I was doing and what I was taking issue with.
I reject antisemitism, and I take very seriously the troubling rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia in recent weeks. I also mourn the tremendous loss of all innocent lives, and would never seek to disparage or devalue any life, including the lives of Israeli civilians.
This past week, the video was published and then promoted online by a group which has been aggressively doxxing New Yorkers in recent weeks, leading to harassment, threats, and calls forthem to lose their jobs. After I learned about the video on Saturday, I contacted NYCDS to alert them. From Sunday to Monday, I faced escalating pressure from NYCDS management to remain silent about context for what had happened to me; and then subsequent pressure to either resign from my job, or be terminated. Management did not want to consider context or details from me about the night of the vigil, and they made clear that they did not want me to share those details with my colleagues. Management spoke to press outlets like the New York Post about what was happening to me, without giving me any notice that these articles were in the works or any opportunity to comment directly to journalists, even through counsel. These articles resulted in a huge onslaught of threats to my personal safety that are continuing as I write this letter.I did not want to be terminated, but if I had to leave, I wanted to leave on my own terms with dignity.
I let NYCDS know that I wanted to find a path forward for both me and the organization that would start with an unpaid leave of absence. However, over a series of calls, where I did not have the opportunity to be represented by counsel, management’s position on my employment at NYCDS went from affirming that I would continue to be able to work at the organization and had been a dedicated employee; to indicating that I needed to resign immediately, or the board would be looking into termination proceedings.
This shift in management’s position on my employment occurred after the New York Post article was published, and after I requested the ability to have a meeting with them where I was represented by legal counsel, rather than have ad hoc conversations. I did not want to be terminated, but if I had to leave, I wanted to leave on my own terms with dignity, so on Monday evening, I chose to resign.
As public defenders, we stand by our clients when their lives are reduced to mischaracterizations, and we give voice to their humanity and their truths. And as public defenders, we stand up for our clients’ constitutional rights when they are under attack. But throughout this process, I felt that my own truth was diminished and unimportant to this organization; and that my First Amendment right to hold personal political views and act pursuant to those views, outside of the workplace, was neither respected nor defended.
I am devastated that I will no longer be working with you all, my amazing colleagues who have mentored me and served as role models for me during such formative years of my career. I am especially grateful to those of you who have reached out to me to offer support during these very difficult last few days. I will not forget your compassion and solidarity. I will carry forward all that I have learned from you at NYCDS and will continue to advocate for a more just world.