The Deir Yassin Remembered Blog

Report on Beth Israel vigil 08-13-11

Posted on August 25th, 2011 at 3:21 pm by

Why the First Amendment Is Valued

For almost eight years members of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF) have exercised the individual and collective free speech rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Early on, this writer would time and again confuse the applicability of the First Amendment by alerting our legal counsel that his ability to speak was being denied. And time and again our legal counsel would patiently differentiate between that speech which was denied by PRIVATE individuals – a legal denial – and speech which would be denied by PUBLIC organizations, i.e. a government entity. The First Amendment only protects us when the GOVERNMENT attempts to silence our voices and even then not always.

Example: In 2004, JWPF launched a successful boycott campaign against Hiller’s Market, located in the Arborland Shopping Center. We wished to flyer customers as they entered and left the market but were denied that opportunity to communicate, because Arborland is private property, and the owners restricted political speech there. So JWPF mounted a protest outside the shopping center, alongside the highly trafficked – and public – Washtenaw Avenue. Only there would our First Amendment rights be protected. And they were.

What other private venues have tried to silence our voices? First to mind is Beth Israel Congregation, whose Rabbi occasioned our vigils by denying us a weekday venue at BIC to inform the members what was happening in Palestine. Then there’s the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice who, in violation of their own core values (to wit: “Not using power to dominate”), simply ejected the Middle East Task Force when boycotting Apartheid Israel was unpalatable to a few chosen people in powerful positions.

We also remember when Clark Smith of radio station WEMU invited this writer to debate David Shtulman, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, on the Lynn Rivers Show. What happened? Shtuhlman refused to debate, and Smith pulled the plug on the interview. Former US Representative Rivers – an extremely competent interviewer, capable of asking hardball questions – would not even return emails asking her for coffee and conversation on this topic.

When the Ann Arbor News was in existence, the editorial staff refused to print an Op-Ed, refuting the false claims alleged against JWPF by Rabbi Rob Dobrusin in his printed Op-Ed (2007). In fact, the local alternative and Jewish-dominated newspaper Critical Moment likewise refused to publish our voice.

Jewish-led peace groups have also worked to silence and censor. Michigan Peaceworks continues to protect Apartheid Israel from blame in their campaigns, and has denied JWPF speaking opportunities. Likewise the Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East would not support JWPF’s request to use a UUAA hall as venue for our Forum held March 29th.

Pastor Ken Wilson of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor claims our messages on our signs are so short as to be insignificant. He wrote to his congregation that JWPF delivers only a “fraction of a tweet” of information on Washtenaw Avenue. And though his goal was to remove our presence from the sidewalks of Beth Israel, his comment strikes home: our messages are indeed short, considering the avalanche of mass media distortion of Palestinian resistance, both from mainstream sources and the Zionist-dominated peace movement. Our disagreement with the pastor comes from the need to expand the message; he wants less speech, we want more. Our voice – and more importantly the voices of Occupied Palestine (all of Palestine is occupied) – needs to be expanded, not shriveled up. So we will continue to rely on our First Amendment rights to deliver our messages.


…as long as Jews operate politically, culturally and socially within exclusive racially oriented cells, be it Israel, Zionism, Jewish ‘anti’ Zionist networks or even ‘Jews only’ football clubs , they will encounter problems.

Gilad Atzmon, “An interesting exchange with a Jewish Anti-Zionist”

Eight vigilers
Zionism: Kosher Apartheid
Henry Herskovitz
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends


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