Young Israel: Ongoing Anti-Semitic Protest Outside Michigan Synagogue Must End

August 27, 2020

The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) today called on elected officials and other religious groups to condemn a weekly anti-Semitic protest that has taken place outside a Michigan synagogue for the past nearly seventeen years.


Every Saturday morning since September 2003, a group of protesters have gathered in front of Beth Israel Synagogue in Ann Arbor during Shabbat morning services, during which time they display signs that read “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “Resist Jewish Power,” “End the Palestinian Holocaust,” “Stop Funding Israel,” and “Fake News: Israel Is A Democracy.”


Members of the synagogue filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan alleging that the protesters infringe on their federal and state rights, and maintaining that the City of Ann Arbor contributed to their rights being violated by failing to enforce the city code, which they maintain requires the protesters to have a permit. The plaintiffs, one of whom is a Holocaust survivor, assert that the offensive signs, which are in plain sight of the men, women, and children who attend the synagogue, cause the congregants extreme emotional distress, which negatively impacts their religious experience while at the synagogue, and adversely affects their willingness to attend Shabbat services.


On August 19, 2020, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, citing the protections afforded to them under the First Amendment. “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 decision. “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.”


“Taking a hands-off approach as a religious group is regularly and relentlessly harassed by a group of individuals whose sole objective is to target and intimidate Jews is disgraceful,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “Jews attending services in a synagogue do not deserve to be demeaned as they enter their religious sanctuary to pray, just as Muslims entering a mosque or Christians arriving at a church should not be subjected to such objectionable and offensive conduct. This interminable anti-Semitic exercise outside Beth Israel Synagogue is intended to incite hatred towards Jews and torment people as they enter a house of worship, which is reprehensible. With synagogues in the United States under attack as we saw in Pittsburgh and Poway, our elected officials and other religious groups need to join together to strongly condemn this abominable hatred that fuels the fires of anti-Semitism in this nation. After synagogues in Los Angeles were desecrated with anti-Semitic messages during the protests following the tragic death of George Floyd, and now a synagogue in Kenosha, Wisconsin was defaced with anti-Israel rhetoric during protests following the Jacob Blake shooting, vigilance in and around synagogues is more important than ever and apathy in the face of anti-Semitism is inexcusable.”


“We hope that the courts and the local municipality will reassess this disturbing situation and take steps to move the protesters away from a location where they feel emboldened to cavalierly terrorize those who wish to peacefully exercise their freedom of religion by attending services at their local synagogue,” Weiss added. “This heinous weekly intimidation of Jews is outrageous and needs to end now.”


For the past 108 years, the National Council of Young Israel has ably served the broader Jewish community. With more than 25,000 member families and approximately 135 branch synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel, the National Council of Young Israel is a multi-faceted organization that embraces Jewish communal needs and often takes a leading role in tackling the important issues that face the Jewish community in North America and Israel.