Ann Arbor City Council condemns weekly synagogue protests

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Ann Arbor City Council has put its collective foot down on the protests that have been held outside of Beth Israel Congregation along Washtenaw Avenue every Saturday for the last 18 years.

After listening to community members and some debate early last week, City Council members voted unanimously on a resolution condemning the demonstrations and antisemitism.

The resolution is the first time that the city has formally criticized the weekly practices. It was sponsored by Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and council members Julie Grand, Linh Song, Travis Radina, Jen Eyer, Kathy Griswold and Erica Briggs.

Those doing the demonstrations have previously claimed that the protests are held in solidarity with Palestinian victims of violence; however, signs with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish slogans such as “Jewish Power Corrupts” and “Stop Funding Israel” are often present.

In 2019, a congregant of Beth Israel sued the protestors but the lawsuit was dismissed in September 2020 by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which stated that the protests fell under the Constitution’s First Amendment to free speech.

This story was first published in the A4 newsletter. To get local stories and insights straight into your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below:

While City Council cannot stop the protests, it was made abundantly clear that they were unwelcome. The resolution states, “that the Ann Arbor City Council condemns all forms of antisemitism, and in particular the weekly antisemitic rally on Washtenaw Avenue.”

The document calls on those “who rally to express antisemitism on Washtenaw Avenue to renounce extremism, disband, and cease their weekly show of aggressive bigotry.” It also declares the city’s support for those who go to the synagogue and members of the Jewish community within Ann Arbor.

On Facebook, Taylor posted a statement in support of the City Council’s decision.

“City Council cannot engage antisemitism without discussing the 18 years of Shabbat protests at the Beth Israel Congregation,” Taylor wrote.

“Government does not have the authority to limit or prevent this practice. People have a First Amendment right to gather on a public sidewalk and to speak –– but we here too have that right. In my opinion, the Shabbat protests are abhorrent, they express vile antisemitic tropes, peddle conspiracy, and they are designed to disrupt an innocent congregation as they gather, infants thru elders, to celebrate, mourn, learn and worship. I condemn the choice of these people to direct hate on the Sabbath at this congregation and call upon them to relent and disband.”

While the resolution does not directly mention the recent hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, it does mention a rise in antisemitic incidents and extremist violence in recent years.

On its own Facebook page, Beth Israel Congregation officials commented on the matter, stating that the resolution was a “crucial achievement in the ongoing fight to dismantle oppression of all groups in our city.”

“The City Council’s and Mayor Chris Taylor’s unequivocal statement communicates –– beyond our borders, in our country –– what Ann Arbor commits to with respect to the safety of all its citizens and the learning of its children,” the post reads.

Read the full resolution here.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.