Weekly Anti-Semitic Protests Outside Michigan Synagogue Ruled Protected Speech
August 24, 2020
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, weekly anti-Israel protests that feature blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric outside of a synagogue in Ann Arbor Michigan, have been deemed protected speech under the First Amendment and may continue to take place, a federal judge has ruled.
According to an opinion handed down last week by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts of the Eastern Michigan District Court, “Peaceful protest speech such as this – on sidewalks and streets – is entitled to the highest level of constitutional protection, even if it disturbs, is offensive, and causes emotional distress.” Judge Roberts dismissed a lawsuit seeking to end the protests outside of the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.
For the past seventeen years, the weekly protests have taken place at the same time as Beth Israel’s Sabbath services on Saturday mornings. Protesters outside of Beth Israel have regularly brought signs with messages like, “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “No More Holocaust Movies,” “Boycott Israel,” “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel” and “End the Palestinian holocaust.”
In a statement issued after Judge Roberts’ ruling, Beth Israel’s Rabbi Nadav Caine said, “They fill our sidewalks with hate speech to harass our worshipers, and then claim it’s just a good public location.” Speaking to the Detroit Jewish news earlier this year, Rabbi Caine expressed how the protests have made it difficult for the congregation to offer services to the community.
The lawsuit named two groups as organizing and leading the weekly protests, Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends and Deir Yassin Remembered, which was classified as a Holocaust-denying hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017.
“There is no allegation that the protesters prevent plaintiffs from attending Sabbath services, that they block plaintiffs’ path onto the property or to the synagogue, or that the protests and signs outside affect the services inside,” Judge Roberts wrote in her opinion. “Plaintiffs merely allege that the defendants’ conduct causes them distress and ‘interferes’ with their enjoyment of attending religious services.”
The signs and chants that are regularly featured at the protests are considered anti-Semitic under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Most glaringly, the protests are anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition for “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel,” principally by holding Jewish worshipers in Michigan accountable for the alleged actions of the State of Israel.
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