A member of the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor has sued city leaders for failing to take action against “flagrantly anti-Semitic” protesters.
The lawsuit was filed on December 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Marvin Gerber, a member of the Beth Israel Congregation.
According to the complaint, an Ann Arbor activist named Henry Herskovitz has led a group of protesters in demonstrating outside of the synagogue for the last 16 years. Herskovitz and his fellow demonstrators arrive “every Saturday morning,” which is the Jewish Sabbath, holding anti-Israel and “flagrantly anti-Semitic” signs.
Some of the signs contain messages such as “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” and “End the Palestinian Holocaust.”
“These signs promote age-old anti-Semitic tropes about purported Jewish outsized influence in world finance and controlling power in international political affairs. They also promote factually erroneous and inflammatory statements relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” states the lawsuit, which seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit argues that the demonstrations amount to the harassment of worshipers and therefore don’t qualify for full First Amendment protections.
“The First Amendment right of free speech does not entitle a speaker to use that right repeatedly to bludgeon, for weeks and years at a time, in the same location,” states the 85-page lawsuit. “The First Amendment … is subject to appropriate limitations on its continued and repeated usage.”
The lawsuit notes that the protesters do not have a permit to engage in their conduct, have never applied for a permit, and have never been granted a permit. Gerber’s attorney also claims that the demonstrations violate the Ann Arbor City Code, which requires the protesters to obtain a permit for placing signs on the synagogue’s property.
“Over the entire 16-year period, the protesters have not picketed on any other house of worship of any other religion, or any establishment whose clientele is predominantly non-Jewish,” the lawsuit continues. “This focus only on a Jewish place of worship, to the exclusion of all other houses of worship, demonstrates, in addition to the anti-Semitic content of several of the signs, that the motive for the protesters’ project of picketing Beth Israel Synagogue is an overriding commitment to Anti-Semitism.”
The complaint further claims that the demonstrations are having an “adverse emotional effect on Jewish children and young adults.”
MLive reported that Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, has been highly critical of the protests, but can’t intervene because of First Amendment protections.
“The city has worked with synagogue leadership and congregants for years on this issue,” Taylor told the outlet. “I recognize the pain caused by the protesters and it’s disgusting. We believe we’ve acted in accordance with our legal obligations.”
Herskovitz denies being anti-Semitic and told MLive that he plans to continue the demonstrations.
“We’re not there because they’re Jews. We’re there because they’re Jewish Zionists,” he said. “Our protests are to highlight the ongoing, criminal actions of the state of Israel and we plan to continue to do so. I plan to be the witness I have been for the last 16 years.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Beth Israel Congregation” by Dwight Burdette. CC BY 3.0.