A New York City taxpayer-funded legal aid group condemned for a 2014 “kill the NYPD” rap video and a 2021 director’s email blasting Israel and cops now been forced to issue an apology and a $170,000 settlement for alleged discrimination against a Jewish staffer, The Post has learned.
“You may remember that I was called a racist, a colonizer and a karen [slang for entitled white person], and I was told that I was worse than the dirt under your feet and that my children were murderers,” former Bronx Defenders staffer Debbie Jonas said in an email Wednesday to the politically charged legal assistance group’s employees informing them about the settlement.
Jonas, a Zionist Jew, has children with dual citizenship in Israel and the U.S. who have served in Israel’s Defense Forces.
“I was cursed and badgered until I could no longer stand the hostility,” said Jonas, who worked at Bronx Defenders for eight years.
While Bronx Defenders admitted to no lawful wrongdoing in the confidential settlement, its executive director, Justine Olderman, issued a heartfelt apology and the firm has agreed to provide anti-Semitism training to all employees provided by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
Jonas praised Olderman’s “courage” and “humility” for issuing the “since” apology.
She said after subtracting legal expenses, she will donate a total of $40,000 to charities in Israel: Shurst Hadin, Tobeka, Yad L’isha, Technoda and Bet Izzy Shapiro.
“Of course, this represents a great victory in the effort to combat Jew-hatred,” said Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, who took up Jonas’ cause.
“But this saga also serves as a vital example of just how pervasive anti-Semitism is in every sector of society and as a lesson on the necessity for Jewish victims to fight for justice if there are ever to be meaningful consequences.”
The Post first reported in June 2021 that Shannon Cumberbatch, director of Bronx Director’s Office of Equity and Institutional Transformation, blasted Israel, the “US empire” and even the NYPD during an ongoing dispute with Palestinians in Gaza in an official email — likening the situation in the Middle East to “sanctioned genocide” against blacks and native Americans in America.
In her letter as part of the settlement, Olderman apologized for staffers’ mistreatment of Jonas.
“I feel a special kind of shame for not speaking up in the face of internal emails containing hateful personal attacks on you and your family,” Olderman said.
Bronx Defenders “stands for the fundamental principle of treating people, whether client, community member, or staff with compassion, care, and dignity, I am personally sorry and ashamed that both I and the organization I lead did not live up to those values,” she told Jonas.
Bronx Defenders — which has obtained more than $300 million in city and state funding over the past decade to represent poor defendants in criminal and civil cases — previously came under fire in 2014 when two of its staffers appeared in a vile online rap video that urged black people to kill NYPD cops, and a DOI investigation found that staffers lied about their role in the video.
A city Department of Investigation probe issued a scathing report in 2015 concluding that Bronx Defender staffers lied about their role in the video, including filming of it in their office.
Bronx Defenders said it defends 27,000 low-income Bronx residents annually in criminal, civil, child welfare, and immigration cases and aids thousands more through social service programs.
Last month, Bronx Defenders filed two federal suits against the NYPD, including one claiming undercover officers in Bronx narcotics unit beat a 60-year-old defendant.
“The Bronx Defenders is a public defender nonprofit that is radically transforming how low-income people are represented in the legal system. We are committed to building a workplace where staff members of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences can thrive and where we navigate disagreement, conflict, and harm in healthy and productive ways. Whenever we fall short of these values, we’ll take action to ensure every member of our team is respected,” a spokesperson for the group said.