Ann Arbor synagogue vigils against Israeli occupation debated
By Nick Meyer
Saturday, 03.19.2011, 08:55am
Since 2001, Henry Herskovitz and his friends from the Jewish Witnesses for Peace organization have held peaceful demonstrations in Ann Arbor to spread awareness about Israel’s inhumane, internationally illegal occupation and alleged war crimes against Palestinians.
Herskovitz and his group have also held peaceful weekly protests at Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor each Saturday for the last seven years, pledging to stop in exchange for the synagogue’s removal of the Israeli flag inside. A prayer is also said for Israel at the synagogue as well, according to Herskovitz.
The vigils were debated at a January discussion titled “Can I Get Some Respect? Flashpoints and Controversies On Religious Freedom,” at the Ann Arbor Public Library, during which Imam Dawud Walid of the Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, who is also the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan, was quoted in the Washtenaw Jewish News as saying that he denounced the vigils.
Walid referred to numerous incidents of harassment suffered by Muslim congregations around the country as part of the reasoning behind his denunciation of the synagogue vigils.
“We at CAIR-MI have expressed numerous times throughout the year our issues with people protesting in front of mosques on our most holy day and even badgering children,” Walid said in an interview last week.
“We’d be hypocrites to say it’s not civil in front of mosques yet to endorse it taking place at other houses of worship.”
Walid said that he and his group stand behind Palestine but not the methods of the demonstrators in Ann Arbor. He said that a member of JWP told him only a few others had joined their vigils over the years.
“We believe in the First Amendment and we are definitely against the illegal occupation by the Israeli regime of Arab lands, however there’s a time and place for everything and it would not be fitting for us as Muslims to protest in front of Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath day, there’s nothing in the example of Muhammad and the imams of his household to justify such behavior.”
Herskovitz said that it was “unfortunate” that Walid made the remarks and said that approximately 9 out of 10 people passing by support their message. He said many people in the area have expressed that they are “tired of paying for Israeli crimes with U.S. tax dollars.”
He also said that the synagogue has funded programs that sent kids to Israel to pose with armed soldiers in military vehicles and have shown their support for Israeli military actions against Arab countries in other ways.
Herskovitz added that he believed the numerous hate-filled protests in front of mosques and other Islamic events came about for different reasons.
“I think he’s talking about misinterpretations of Islam and it’s highly regrettable that people would use those misconceptions to launch a protest in front of a mosque. I am aware of the rise of Islamophobia and I find it highly regrettable,” he said.
“I would say that if a mosque was a Zionist mosque, as strange as that may sound, I would certainly not attack a group for protesting in front of such a mosque; we have protested in front of Zionist churches and synagogues before.”
Walid said he believes that other forms of protest would be more effective.
“For activists regarding the Palestinian issue my sincere advice is that they need to start thinking about the long-term good instead of things that make them feel good, that’s the fundamental issue at hand.”
Herskovitz said he believes the vigils have been effective, however.
“I have heard (criticism) for seven years and during that time I have yet to see a tactic that is as effective politically and media-wise that matches our vigils; if I were shown a better way I would do it,” he said.