"Most Saturdays, a half-dozen to a dozen or more members of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends hold signs against Israel ("Israel Commits Atrocities"), against U.S. policy ("Stop U.S. Aid to Israel") and against supporters of Israel ("Israel Lobby Inside"). Sometimes they videotape the worshipers as they arrive."
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Non-Jews lead effort to stop Shabbat demonstrations in Ann Arbor.
Special to the Jewish News
Thursday, April 12, 2007
How can a community like ours, that rightly prides itself on being a liberal and respectful one, be silent in the face of this kind of abuse of our Jewish neighbors?"
That is the question that Larry Crockett and others in the recently formed Worship Without Harassment group ask fellow Ann Arborites regarding the picketing of Beth Israel Congregation each Saturday morning for the past three years.
Most Saturdays, a half-dozen to a dozen or more members of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends hold signs against Israel ("Israel Commits Atrocities"), against U.S. policy ("Stop U.S. Aid to Israel") and against supporters of Israel ("Israel Lobby Inside"). Sometimes they videotape the worshipers as they arrive.
The Ann Arbor City Council, area religious leaders and the Ann Arbor News have condemned the pickets to no avail.
In an opinion piece in the Ann Arbor News in January, Beth Israel's Rabbi Robert Dobrusin said the signs "contain false and hateful statements crafted to be provocative and offensive." As to the protesters' claim that they seek dialogue and their demand for a synagogue-hosted platform to present their views, Rabbi Dobrusin wrote that the Shabbat protests "are disrespectful, intrusive, insensitive and counter-productive to any true dialogue on this subject in this community."
Crockett, a member of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor, has observed the picketing a few times and found it "disgusting," saying there are proper forums and venues to demonstrate about political issues. He also suspects that Jews are being singled out in a way that other religious groups wouldn't be, and that beyond political differences anti-Semitism is likely at play.
"I think if it had happened at a mainline church, it would have been over in a month; someone would have found a way to stop it," he says.
An answer on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on the group's Web site also addresses the issue of anti-Semitism: "When Jews - and only Jews - are subjected to this kind of behavior, then what might the appropriate term to describe that be?" it says.
Crockett urges friends of the Jewish community to show support by signing an online petition, sending letters of support to the congregation and speaking out at their own religious institutions in support of Beth Israel and against protests at houses of worship. To contact the group, or sign the online petition, which had 328 signators at last count, visit the Web site
In July 2005, some Beth Israel congregants formed SPURN (Synagogue Protest Unacceptable! Respond Now) to encourage donations to the American Friends of Magen David Adom, supporters of Israel's emergency medical service, as a positive response to the protests. To date, it has raised just under $85,000. See
www.aaspurn.org for information.