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Pro-Palestinian protests outside of Jewish synagogue in Michigan 'are protected by the First Amendment', federal court of appeals rules

 A federal court of appeals has ruled that pro-Palestinian protestors holding signs reading 'Jewish Power Corrupts' outside a Jewish synagogue in Michigan are protected by the First Amendment. 

The protests have been held on a weekly basis since September 2003 and are held during Shabbat morning services outside Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor. 

People usually hold signs that say 'Jewish Power Corrupts,' 'Stop Funding Israel' and 'End the Palestinian Holocaust.' 

Members of Beth Israel, including some Holocaust survivors, said the protests have interfered with their Saturday worship and caused emotional distress.

Henry Herskovitz leads a protest with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish messages outside the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor in 2019

Henry Herskovitz leads a protest with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish messages outside the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor in 2019 

'But the congregants have not alleged that the protesters ever blocked them from using their synagogue or that the protests were even audible from inside the building,' Judge Jeffrey Sutton said. 

He said a proposed solution, a 1,000ft buffer and limits on signs, would violate the First Amendment and that since no protester had ever attempted to trespass the synagogue, no legal action could be taken.

'The key obstacle is the robust protections that the First Amendment affords to nonviolent protests on matters of public concern,' Sutton said in summarizing the case.

The demonstrations, which have been ongoing for nearly two decades, are organized by anti-Israel activists Henry Herskovitz and Chris Mark, from Jewish Witness for Peace.  

The protests have occurred on a weekly basis since September 2003 and are timed to Shabbat morning services outside Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.

The protests have occurred on a weekly basis since September 2003 and are timed to Shabbat morning services outside Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.

Herskovitz used to be a congregant of Beth Israel and founded Jewish Witnesses for Peace, an anti-Semitic organization that 'exposes Jewish racism, power and influence and dual loyalties,' after he was denied to speak to the congregations upon returning from the Middle East.

Herskovitz has said that he won't stop until Beth Israel compromises to open dialog, and accused the synagogue of dismissing Palestinians 'much as George Bush would refuse to meet with rogue terrorists.' 

'This provocative, weekly demonstration of solidarity with the people of occupied Palestine is, apparently, the only one of it's kind in the country.

'It has stirred ire and debate all it's short history and has brought the issue of Israeli military aggression in Palestine to public awareness. 

'The on-going vigil is set to end only once the administrators of the Beth Israel Temple agree to a meaningful dialog regarding their organizational support for the state of Israel, and thus support for military occupation of Palestine and the aggression that accompanies it,' read the website for Jewish Witness of Peace.  


Herskovitz (pictured) used to be a congregant of Beth Israel and founded Jewish Witnesses for Peace after he was denied to speak to the congregations upon returning from the Middle East

Herskovitz (pictured) used to be a congregant of Beth Israel and founded Jewish Witnesses for Peace after he was denied to speak to the congregations upon returning from the Middle East

Jewish Witness of Peace members holding signs reading 'Boycott Israel' and 'No More Wars for Israel' in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Jewish Witness of Peace members holding signs reading 'Boycott Israel' and 'No More Wars for Israel' in Ann Arbor, Michigan 

Congregants of Beth Israel brought up how distressing it was that the protests have been going on for so long, and that children can see the controversial signs, but the court asserted those were not constitutional reasons to stop the protestors.  

'The protesters' actions do not lose constitutional protection just because they have been protesting for a long period of time.

'Free-speech protections do not expire over time or come with a rule against perpetuities. 

'And the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that an interest in protecting children does not justify censoring speech addressed to adults,' read court documents.  

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in support of the activists, saying the protests are entitled to protection even if 'offensive, upsetting and distasteful.'

'If public officials and courts have discretion to suppress speech they don´t like, then none of us truly enjoys the freedom of speech,' Dan Korobkin of the ACLU said.

Last year, congregants filed a lawsuit stating that the protests impeded their right to peacefully practice their religion. The suit was dismissed.  

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