A brand new legal attack has been mounted by the Jewish community against the First Amendment.
Gerber v. Herskovitz, filed last December in the Eastern District of Michigan, claims that protests by an anti-Zionist group called Witness For Peace outside Ann Arbor's Beth Israel Congregation amounts to "group libel" of Jews, among other violations.
Witness for Peace is a small protest group founded by Henry Herskovitz, who is Jewish himself, to call attention to Israeli atrocities supported by Beth Israel. The group has peacefully picketed the Synagogue since 2003.
The lawsuit seems frivolous on its face, but organizations like The Lawfare Project which specialize in pro-Israel litigation have signed up as co-counsel for the plaintiffs, making it a formidable assault. The Lawfare Project sues institutions and governments around the world to prevent them from boycotting Israel or protesting Zionist brutality.
Many Americans are under the false impression that the First Amendment is safe on top of piles of Supreme Court precedents. The truth is more complicated.
The 1952 case of Beauharnais v. Illinois used logic similar to one of Gerber v. Herskovitz's complaints.
In Beauharnais v. Illinois, Jewish justice Felix Frankfurter authored the 5-4 majority ruling upholding the criminal conviction of a man who distributed leaflets calling attention to black crime along with a non-violent appeal for whites to politically organize. According to Frankfurter, Joseph Beauharnais was guilty of "libeling" the black race by referring to it as being more likely to commit crime, and this was thus unconstitutional. The legal concept of "group libel" is what underpins many "hate speech" laws in Europe. This landmark case has yet to be overturned.
Gerber v. Herskovitz is different in that it is also suing the Mayor of Ann Arbor Christopher Taylor for allowing the anti-Israel protests to continue. Aside from Witness for Peace engaging in "group libel" against Jews, the complaint states that both protesters and Ann Arbor city officials are violating laws that ban discrimination in public areas, flouting federal civil rights law, infringing on Beth Israel's religious rights, and that Mayor Taylor is failing to enforce a local ordinance that limits the placement of signs on grass near sidewalks.
The ACLU stepped in last March to file an amicus brief on behalf of the defendants, but the language used in their filing is peppered with attacks on the defendant's message, calling their anti-Zionist slogans "offensive, upsetting, and distasteful for activists to stage political demonstrations outside a synagogue." With over-the-top editorializing like this, the Jewish lawyers at the ACLU may be doing the defendants more harm than good.
Arguments in Gerber v. Herskovitz have been paused due to the coronavirus until June.