A protestor’s sign outside the synagogue.
A protestor’s sign outside the synagogue. (Alex Sherman)

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.

Members of Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Congregation were in court this week arguing for more enforcement to prevent the weekly anti-Israel protests that have greeted worshipers arriving for Shabbat services at the Conservative synagogue since September 2003.

Appearing before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on April 27, members of the synagogue sought to re-establish claims against the city of Ann Arbor and the group of protesters who have demonstrated near its entrance every Saturday morning for nearly two decades.

The protesters have held signs with messages including “Jewish Power Corrupts” and “Resist Jewish Power.”

The original 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 alleged that the city of Ann Arbor aided and abetted the protesters by failing to enforce the prohibitions in its sign ordinance.

They have now appealed the decision of U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts in August 2020 to dismiss calls for the protests to be curbed. Roberts dismissed the claims 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, which was denied as well.

“Indeed, the First Amendment more than protects the expressions by defendants of what plaintiffs describe as ‘anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist, and antisemitic,’” Roberts wrote in her opinion. “Peaceful protest such as this — on sidewalks and streets — is entitled to the highest level of constitutional protection, even it disturbs, is offensive and causes emotional distress.”

In their appeal to the Sixth Circuit, Gerber and Brysk argued Roberts misinterpreted the scope of the relief they requested, which they claim involved only “the imposition of reasonable time, place and manner conditions” on the protests. 

They accused the district court of ignoring several synagogue members who attested to the emotional distress caused by the protesters’ signs and said the distress constitutes an “intangible injury” that grants them standing.

Marc Susselman, the plaintiff’s lead counsel, and Ziporah Reich, co-counsel to the plaintiffs, hope the appeal process signifies them making headway. 

“We got a chance to flesh out our arguments more,” Susselman said. 

At this point, the council believes the key to making further headway is whether the appeal panel gives the thumbs up on there being standing for emotional distress as a concrete injury and the imposition of reasonable time, place and manner conditions for the protests.

No timetable has yet been set for the court’s final decision.