Despite dissenters demonstrating, David Shtulman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, cherishes the hospitality experienced by the organization at Washtenaw Community College.
“The people who run the ML building were terrific,” Shtulman said. “We are definitely going to come back.”
While the Federation’s annual “Main Event” fundraiser, which last year raised about $300,000, was being held at WCC’s Morris Lawrence Building for the first time on Sunday, Oct. 30, a group of protesters wielding picket signs held a presence outside. Shtulman, and the more than 400 members in attendance, breathed sighs of frustration.
“For eight years they have been doing this,” Shtulman said. “But except for picketing, they have no connection to the Jewish community.”
Dubbing themselves “the Jewish Witnesses for Peace,” the protest group frequents the Beth-Israel Synagogue on Washtenaw Avenue to voice its concerns during Saturday congregations. Rebekah Gamble, a volunteer for the federation, does not enjoy the attention.
“It’s rude,” Gamble said. “It’s hard when people are trying to worship every Saturday, and have to deal with them… every Saturday.”
The protesters, unreachable for comment, pursue representation as an anti-Zionist movement opposing Jewish occupation of Israel, according to Shtulman. The group has demanded that references to Israel be removed from the doctrines and effigies used in the synagogue’s ceremonies.
“They believe Israel has no right to exist,” Shtulman said. “That it is a foreign occupation because no modern Jews have any connection to the land of Israel. They want our prayer for peace in Israel to be removed.”
Shtulman laments the protester’s claims, citing extreme beliefs of the group as groundless and malicious.
“They’re absurd, when you look closer at what they do,” Shtulman said. “They regularly include the classic, anti-semitic motif of: Zionists control American government and foreign policy. They believe the Jewish lobby is an evil conspiracy.”
Referring to a recent protest of the Beth-Israel Congregation’s Yom Kippur fasting ceremonies, Shtulman was offended when protesters came to eat bacon-cheese-burgers in opposition.
“They can be incredibly disrespectful,” Shtulman said. “Sometimes they tip over the line into hateful with their messages. But in the end, they’re really irrelevant.”
The Witnesses for Peace didn’t faze Jacques Desrosiers’ resolve either. The director of Campus Safety and Security explained mildly how the small group tried to come onto the property and were dealt with promptly.
“They had previously been advised by the college where they could protest: 30 feet from the Huron River Drive roadway,” Derosiers said. “We advised them go back to where they were supposed to be. They did. I think they left at about 5:30 p.m.”
In the wake of the Witnesses for Peace’s protest, newly elected president of the Muslim Student Association, Afrah Raghe, 20, hopes for equality and serenity despite world-wide political conflicts.
“We believe in a fair discourse,” Raghe said. “Equality would be good. We shouldn’t get too involved in politics, but I do support the protest of the Israeli Occupation if it is done in a peaceful way.”
Raghe encourages rallies, but remains firm in the necessity that such behavior harbor respect across faiths.
“Protesting is the best way to show support for the Palestinian cause,” Raghe said. “In Islam, you are supposed to respect other religions. We all came from the same roots.”