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Lawyer in Michigan synagogue-protest case accuses judge of being antisemitic

Says it is unconscionable to order an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor to pay $158,721.25 to neo-Nazis who protested outside her house of worship for 18 years

The lawyer representing congregants in a long-running dispute over perennial  anti-Israel and antisemitic protests outside their Ann Arbor synagogue on Saturday mornings has accused the federal judge presiding over the case of herself being antisemitic. 

The U.S. Supreme Court declined this spring to hear the case, which pits the protesters’ First Amendment right of free expression against the worshippers’ First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion. Lower courts had dismissed the lawsuit the congregants filed in 2019, and U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts ordered them to pay $159,000 in legal fees.

“Considering all of her rulings, taken together in their entirety, the appearance of antisemitism is undeniable,” the lawyer, Marc Susselman, wrote in a brief filed Thursday appealing the order. 

Susselman noted that one of the plaintiffs is an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, and that some of the protesters also picketed outside a Holocaust museum on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2014 with signs saying “Free Ernst Zundel,” the author of a book titled “The Hitler We Knew and Loved,” who was jailed in Germany for Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred. (Zundel died in 2017.)

The protests began in 2003 outside an Ann Arbor building that houses services for both the Conservative Beth Israel Congregation and the Pardes Hannah Congregation, which is affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement. Neither congregation was involved in the lawsuit; Jewish groups including Agudath Israel of America, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs.

In his latest court filing, Susselman questioned how the judge arrived at the amount of the legal fee —$158,721 — and how the protesters’ signs with slogans including   “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” and “No More Holocaust Movies” could be protected as addressing “issues of public concern.” 

“This is not an issue that may be minimized, rationalized, or swept under the  carpet,” Susselman wrote. 

“The specter of the appearance of racial, ethnic or religious bias in the rulings of any judge, regardless of the judge’s own race, ethnicity or religion, must be forthrightly addressed, investigated and, if sustained, sanctioned,” he added. (Judge Roberts is Black.) “When such bias seeps into the judiciary, it becomes a cancer which undermines the administration of  justice in this country.”

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