Holocaust Survivor Ordered to Pay Legal Fees of Demonstrators Who Harassed Ann Arbor Congregation
After a protracted legal battle, a judge has ordered a Holocaust survivor and other plaintiffs to pay $159,000 to a group of protesters who regularly harassed an Ann Arbor synagogue, MLive reported Friday.
US District Court Judge Victoria Roberts found in favor of the defendants, whose weekly demonstrations outside the Beth Israel Congregation have been upheld as protected speech under the first amendment.
The group, calling itself Witness for Peace, has gathered for more than 18 years outside the synagogue, holding signs with antisemitic slogans such as “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “No More Holocaust Movies,” “Boycott Israel,” “Stop US Aid to Israel,” and “End the Palestinian holocaust.”
They claim they are merely showing solidarity with the Palestinians and seeking to force the synagogue to adopt their anti-Israel beliefs.
Judge Roberts ordered plaintiffs Marvin Gerber and Miriam Brysk, who is a Holocaust survivor, and attorney Marc Susselman to pay the defendants’ legal fees. Their claims were determined to be meritless and frivolous.
The original suit alleged that the antisemitic demonstrations caused the plaintiffs “extreme emotional distress” and violated several municipal codes.
Roberts previously dismissed the case in Aug. 2020. The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.
“Peaceful protest speech such as this — on sidewalks and streets — is entitled to the highest level of constitutional protection, even if it disturbs, is offensive, and causes emotional distress,” Roberts said.
Susselman described the ruling on legal fees as a “reversible error” that he plans to appeal. The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court.
The ruling comes after the Ann Arbor City Council condemned the demonstrators on Jan. 18, in a unanimous resolution that “calls upon the persons who rally to express antisemitism … to renounce extremism, disband and cease their weekly show of aggressive bigotry; and declares its support for the Beth Israel Congregation, their guests and all members of the Jewish community in Ann Arbor, each of whom has the right to worship, gather and celebrate free from intimidation, harassment and fear of violence.”
The demonstrators claim “our Jewish neighbors, somehow simply by existing, are responsible for or loyal to the actions of a foreign government,” said Council Member Travis Radina.