February 2020 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

Members of an Ann Arbor, Mich., synagogue are suing a band of protesters who have been demonstrating in front of their house of worship every Saturday for the past 16 years.

Beth Israel Congregation has been targeted by a small group of protesters who say they oppose the policies of the government of Israel. The protesters, who call themselves Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friendship, say they want to highlight the treatment of the Palestinians, but critics note that one of the groups involved in the protests has been tied to Holocaust denial.

The synagogue’s federal lawsuit, filed in late December, argues that the demonstrations are an anti-Semitic form of harassment and that the city’s policies regulating demonstrations and picketing have allowed them to get out of hand.

The lawsuit asserts that the right to free speech “does not entitle a speaker to use that right repeatedly as a bludgeon, for weeks and years at a time, in the same location, rather than as a means of legitimate communication in an effort to convey information to persuade others to the speaker’s point of view.”

It also asserts that the demonstrations infringe on the religious freedom rights of the members of the synagogue by making them a “captive audience” for messages they don’t want to hear.

City officials declined to comment on the Gerber v. Hers­kovitz lawsuit.