Synagogue Member Sues Michigan City and Protestors Over 16 Years of ‘Anti-Semitisim’

December 27, 2019 Updated: December 27, 2019
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A member of a Michigan synagogue is filing a lawsuit against Ann Arbor city leaders and anti-Israel protesters over protests outside the Beth Israel Congregation, which have reportedly continued for 16 years.

In his 85-page lawsuit filed last week, Marvin Gerber, a member of the congregation, argues that the demonstrations are “harassing conduct,” amount to anti-Semitic hate speech and that the protesters have been uniquely provocative.

Gerber claims in his filing in U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan that placing some restrictions on the protesters would not violate free-speech protections. He argues that the “hateful” and “anti-Semitic” nature of the protests do not qualify for full First Amendment protections in the first place.

“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,” the lawsuit states. “The First Amendment … is subject to appropriate limitations on its continued and repeated usage.”

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Gerber also seeks unspecified damages from the protesters and the city for emotional distress.

“The conduct of the protesters is having an adverse emotional effect on Jewish children and young adults who, approaching the synagogue, see the signs/placards insulting their religion and denouncing their loyalty to Israel,” the lawsuit said.

Signs from the six to 12 protesters carry anti-Semitic messages such as “Resist Jewish Power” and “Jewish Power Corrupts,” according to the lawsuit. They allegedly stand on the sidewalk outside of the synagogue every week between about 9:30 and 11:30 during Saturday morning services.

The complaint lists Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, protester Henry Herskovitz and his two organizations—Deir Yassin Remembered, and Jewish Witnesses for Peace—as defendants. The groups say they were founded to advocate for Palestinians.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017 labeled Deir Yassin Remembered as a Holocaust-denying group.

Taylor and other city officials say they have strongly condemned the demonstrations over the years, however, attempts to intervene haven’t been successful because of First Amendment protections, according to MLive.

The city has worked with synagogue leadership and congregants for years on this issue,” Taylor said. “I recognize the pain caused by the protesters, and it’s disgusting. We believe we’ve acted in accordance with our legal obligations.”

Taylor has reportedly not seen the lawsuit yet.

Herskovitz, meanwhile, has previously denied accusations of anti-Semitism. The 73-year-old told MLive he will “absolutely” continue to protest outside the congregation despite the lawsuit, which he claims is “peppered with inaccuracies.”

“We certainly have received a lot of complaints over the last 16 years,” he told the news outlet in response to the complaint.

“We’re not there because they’re Jews. We’re there because they’re Jewish Zionists,” he said, expressing his discontent that the Israeli flag is on display in its sanctuary and that the synagogue prays for the state of Israel.

He added that the protests are “peaceful vigils” and do not obstruct anyone from entering the Beth Israel Congregation.

“For the most part, we’re silent,” he said. “We are law-abiding down to the final degree.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.