Ann Arbor Protests
(Alex Sherman)

9/4 UPDATE:

A motion for a district judge to reconsider their ruling against Ann Arbor synagogue congregants in a case involving anti-Israel synagogue protesters has been denied, the plaintiffs’ counsel said. Plaintiffs’ counsel vowed to appeal the case involving anti-Israel synagogue protesters.

*Original story with corresponding edits due to update below*

After a judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging anti-Israel protesters outside of Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Congregation, lawyers for the plaintiffs look to keep the case alive.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed the lawsuit brought by a congregant against the protesters on Aug. 19, on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not prove they suffered concrete injury as a result of the protests. In response, the plaintiff’s counsel filed a motion for reconsideration on Thursday, Aug. 27.

Witness for Peace group protesting outside Beth Israel in Ann Arbor
A Witness for Peace protester readies his signs for the weekly Shabbat protest that started in 2003 outside Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor. ADL Michigan included the protests in their anti-Semitism counter for the first time in 2019. Alex Sherman

The motion stated that the court’s decision “contains several palpable defects, including errors of fact and law,” including one believed defect described as a mischaracterization of the equitable relief being sought by the plaintiffs.

“Plaintiffs … ask the Court to enjoin these Defendants from engaging in peaceful political speech in public areas. The Constitution simply does not tolerate such restraint,” the original court decision reads.

“By using the plural, ‘public areas,’ the statement suggests that Plaintiffs were seeking to bar the Defendants from engaging in their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech in every possible public area,” the motion responded. “This is not true… Plaintiffs were only seeking reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the Defendants use of their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech in proximity to their house of worship.”

Witness for Peace Group
Witness for Peace group protesting outside Beth Israel in Ann Arbor. Alex Sherman

Susselman is handling the case along with The Lawfare Project, a New York-based legal fund with a focus on Jewish and pro-Israel cases.

Due to the reconsideration being denied, the plaintiff’s counsel plans to file an appeal with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

“I expect [Judge Roberts] to deny [the motion], just judging from her reasoning and her attitude demonstrated in her order to dismiss the case,” Susselman predicted before the decision. “But she may be concerned about that, because I think we’ve made very strong arguments that her decision is contrary to so many precedents on so many levels that she’s clearly risking it being overturned, and no judge wants to be overturned.”

Ann Arbor resident Henry Herskovitz, leader and founder of a group called Witness for Peace, began protesting outside of the synagogue in 2003. The group has protested there every Saturday morning since then, timed to the congregation’s Shabbat services. The protesters have held signs with messages including “Jewish Power Corrupts” and “Resist Jewish Power.” Some supporters have exhibited sympathies with neo-Nazis and other antisemitic groups.

The December 2019 lawsuit was filed by Marvin Gerber, a Beth Israel member. Dr. Miriam Brysk, a Holocaust survivor and member of Pardes Hannah Congregation, which is located in an annex next to Beth Israel, is a part of the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff.

The suit argued that the protesters violated several federal statutes which make it unlawful for private citizens to engage in conduct, including speech, which targets particular individuals based on their race or ethnicity.

The suit separately alleges that the City of Ann Arbor aided and abetted the protesters by failing to enforce the prohibitions in its sign ordinance.
Herskovitz and his fellow protesters later filed a motion to dismiss the case, which led to the initial dismissal.

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