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Southern Poverty Law Center Adds Ann Arbor Synagogue Protest Group to Hate Group List

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report on Feb. 23 on hate groups in the U.S.

SPLC data reveal there are now more than 1,000 hate groups around the country, the first time the SPLC has seen the number of “hate groups” top 1,000 since it started counting them in the 1980s.

From the SPLC press release:

Several factors fueled the growth: resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government.

A hate group is defined by the SPLC as a group that has “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”

The SPLC lists 35 “hate groups” in Michigan on their map.

A group comprised of Jews and non-Jews that has been protesting at a synagogue in Ann Arbor was added to the SPLC’s national hate group list in 2017.

The group “Dier Yassin Remembered” (also known as “Witnesses for Peace”) has picketed outside the Beth Israel synagogue on Washtenaw Ave. with anti-Israeli messages for over a decade.

In recent years, the group has largely been promoting its message “America First, Not Israel,” which was posted on multiple billboards in southeast Michigan.

Mark Potok, senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization that compiles the list of hate groups annually, said “Deir Yassin Remembered” was listed as a hate group for sympathizing with anti-Semitic causes.

“We list them because over the years they have come to more and more explicitly embrace real-life Holocaust denial,” Potok said.

Potok says Holocaust denial goes deeper than simply disputing historical facts.

“The kind of Holocaust denial that these people practice is essentially a defense of Germany and National Socialism,” Potok said.

The group "Dier Yassin Remembered" (also known as “Witnesses for Peace”) has picketed outside the Beth Israel synagogue on Washtenaw Ave. with anti-Israeli messages for over a decade. (Photo: Henry Heskowitz)

The group “Dier Yassin Remembered” (also known as “Witnesses for Peace”) has picketed outside the Beth Israel synagogue on Washtenaw Ave. with anti-Israeli messages for over a decade. (Photo: Henry Herskovitz)

Henry Herskovitz, a representative of “Deir Yassin Remembered” in Ann Arbor, said the group doesn’t encourage hate, but fights for free speech.

“I feel very fortunate to live in America, where free speech is protected,” Herskovitz said. “If I were in Germany or France, I’d be in jail just for speaking my mind. That’s not right to me.”

While Holocaust denial isn’t a crime in the United States, it is illegal in several European countries, including Germany, France, Austria, Belgium and more.

Herskovitz said the group’s main message is to put America’s interests ahead of Israel’s.

“Our billboards saying ‘America First, Not Israel’ are all about America paying millions every day to a country where most of its residents live just as good, if not better, than most Americans do,” he said.

Herskovitz said Adams Outdoor Advertising, the company that “Deir Yassin Remembered” had paid for the billboards, took them down prematurely, citing conflicts with company policy.

Adams did refund the group’s money, according to Herskovitz.

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