Association of Legal Aid Attorneys ALAA Congress antisemitism
Members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA) are attacking the pro-Israel voices in their ranks. (Illustration by The Free Press)

Union Lawyers Call Jewish Colleagues ‘Deranged’ and ‘Fascist’

Members of the nation’s oldest legal union are attacking the pro-Israel voices in their ranks. Now Congress is investigating.

Jewish lawyers say members of their own labor union are attacking them for supporting Israel—claims that have led Congress to investigate the group for antisemitism.

Members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA), which represents 2,700 public interest attorneys and advocates in the New York City area, say the union fostered a hostile environment toward Jews after Hamas invaded Israel on October 7. Four lawyers who spoke to The Free Press said the abuse was so severe it almost forced them to quit their jobs. As one lawyer who has been in the union for over 15 years put it: “I hate it there. I think the union is a sinking ship. So I am actively looking for an escape plan.” 

The Free Press independently obtained hundreds of ALAA messages from its group chat—known internally as a “gaggle”—that appeared after October 7, which could play a role in the congressional investigation. Messages show multiple ALAA members backing the Palestinian cause and calling on the union to pass a cease-fire resolution in Gaza. Members who defended Israel in the chat were called “fascist,” “deranged,” and “mentally disturbed.” One Jewish union member was told he needs “therapy” and that he needs to “develop some sort of conscious [sic].” 

Below is a sample of those emails with the sender and recipient names redacted:

Hundreds of messages also accused Israel of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “apartheid.” One post in December called Israel the “racist white status quo,” while the following post called Zionism an “ethnocentric racist bigoted belief.”

In one message, lawyer Niteka Raina—whose anti-Israel sentiment was previously reported by the New York Post—described her opposition to the country as a “fight against settler-colonial occupying genocidal states.” She signed off her post below with an apparent attempt at humor, using Nazi imagery: “Goosestepping outside!” (Raina did not respond to a Free Press request for comment.)

On December 19, the union’s cease-fire resolution passed by a vote of 1067 to 570.

On Friday, Congress announced it is probing the ALAA—also known as UAW Local 2325—for antisemitism within its ranks. In a letter, House member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said she was subpoenaing ALAA for its records after “a sizable portion” of the union’s members were “alienated” by its decision to pass the resolution. 

Foxx is the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce—the same group that held the hearings into antisemitism at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania, which led to the resignation of two college presidents last December.

Foxx told The Free Press that the ALAA “scheduled a vote on a blatantly antisemitic resolution that one third of its members vigorously opposed, citing irreconcilable conflicts of interest that would negatively impact their professions as public defenders and create an ethical dilemma.” 

ALAA president Lisa Ohta did not respond to requests for comment from The Free Press.

Founded in 1969, the ALAA is the oldest union of attorneys and legal advocates in the country, according to its website. All lawyers at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, which employs the majority of the union’s members, are required to join the union and pay dues—about $120 a month—as a term of their employment. 

Foxx said the committee will explore whether or not ALAA informed its members of their federally guaranteed right to withhold union dues that fund political activities. One ALAA member, who is not Jewish and supports a cease-fire in Gaza, told The Free Press she is nonetheless fed up with the “toxic” politicization of the union. She said “it is not doing what the purpose of the union is, which is fighting for workers’ rights, representing us so we can better represent our clients.” 

The member, who asked to remain anonymous, said she feared the cease-fire resolution would “tick off the people who are responsible for our funding, and at the end of the day our clients in Hempstead, New York, or the Bronx give two shits about what is going on in Gaza. They want their attorneys to be their attorneys and focus on making things better in their lives. They want their attorneys to focus on doing our jobs and not being professional protesters.” 

Ariella Goldstein, a Jewish attorney and union member who works for the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice in the Bronx, said she hopes the congressional probe will reveal the hostility she and her Jewish colleagues have faced since October 7. 

“I hope they take it seriously,” Goldstein told The Free Press. “Workplace antisemitism is as serious as the campus antisemitism spreading everywhere.” 

The ALAA joins a growing number of unions across the nation that have adopted progressive talking points and passed cease-fire resolutions in recent months, including The National Writers Union, The University of California Academic Workers, and United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America. Batya Ungar-Sargon, a labor expert and the author of Second Class, told The Free Press that unions are increasingly losing sight of their main purpose, which is to fight for better working conditions for their members.

“You know a union is not representing people who really need a union when they are picketing for Free Palestine as opposed to better wages, more protections, better healthcare, things working class people really need,” Ungar-Sargon said.

This is true of the Student Workers of Columbia. Like the ALAA, it is a chapter of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), though its stated mission is to support graduate and undergraduate students at one of the most prestigious colleges in America. On October 19, twelve days after the Hamas atrocity, the Student Workers of Columbia posted a statement expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause. The union, which exists to support students who experience harassment or discrimination on campus, also deliberately held votes agreeing to participate in wider campus pro-Palestine events when many Jewish students were in Washington for a national demonstration supporting Israel in November.

Alon Levin, a Columbia PhD student in electrical engineering who joined the union only to quit later in protest, said, “My experience is that the union has become a vehicle to pack these rallies for Palestine. Every time you see one of these demonstrations on campus, you see all of these UAW signs. It feels like the union has lost its focus, which is to represent all student workers.”

Even though the pro-Palestine ALAA members successfully passed their cease-fire resolution, anti-Israel comments continue to appear in the workplace gaggle. On January 31, the following message stated: “All settler colonial projects should stop and be dissolved—Israel, the US, and all others alike—and restorative justice must start.”

Edda Ness, a Jewish attorney and ALAA member, called the emails “sick.” She said the time poured into debating the war, planning protests, and fighting over a cease-fire resolution is taking away from members’ valuable work.

“It’s so disturbing because all of that energy could have been spent on the clients we work with,” Ness said. “The oxygen is instead going toward their hate.” 

Goldstein, the lawyer in the Juvenile Rights Practice, agreed.

“To have our representatives, the people that are supposed to be making our workplace more supportive, be making us feel scared when we walk in the door at work,” Goldstein said, “that’s the opposite of helping us do our job.” 

Francesca Block and Eli Lake are reporters for The Free Press. Follow her on Twitter (now X) @FrancescaABlock and him at @EliLake, and read Frannie’s piece “How U.S. Public Schools Teach Antisemitism.” 

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