Every Saturday for over 13 years picketers sponsored by a group calling itself Deir Yassin Remembered have picketed Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor. That group has now been listed by one of America’s leading civil rights organizations on its annual register of “Active Hate Groups.”
To fight bigotry of all types, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Alabama, compiles an annual list of “hate groups” that malign categories of people on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation: anti-black organizations; neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups, anti-Muslim groups, racist skinheads, and anti-LGBT crusaders.
Last month the SPLC placed Deir Yassin Remembered on its hate register because its members deny the Holocaust and sympathize with Nazi Germany. Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the SPLC and a leading authority on political extremism, in an interview with Michigan Radio February 28, explained the SPLC’s position as follows: “We list them because over the years they have come to more and more explicitly embrace real-life Holocaust denial. The kind of Holocaust denial that these people practice is essentially a defense of Germany and National Socialism,” that is to say, Nazism.
Why, after a year-long investigation using websites, eld sources, and news reports, did the SPLC reach this conclusion?
Deir Yassin Remembered campaigned for the release from prison and the exoneration of Ernst Zundel, a German neo-Nazi who was jailed in Canada for publishing literature “likely to incite hatred against an identi able group,” and who was sentenced to ve years imprisonment in his native Germany for “inciting racial hatred.” During his German trial, Zundel’s lawyer signed court motions with the words “Heil Hitler.” In addition to founding a press that published neo-Nazi materials, Zundel co-authored a book The Hitler We Loved and Why, published by White Power Publications. “It was never Hitler’s Germany. It shall always be Germany’s Hitler, the man loved by his people,” the book explains and concludes with the words: “Today [Hitler’s] spirit soars beyond the shores of the White Man’s home in Europe. Wherever we are, he is with us. WE LOVE YOU, ADOLF HITLER.”
To express their apparent solidarity and admiration for Zundel, in 2006 Henry Herskovitz, a member of the board of advisors and directors of Deir Yassin Remembered, together with Daniel McGowan, executive director of Deir Yassin Remembered, visited Zundel in Mannheim Prison in Germany. Recalled Herskovitz on the Deir Yassin Remembered website with evident emotion, “I share with Dan the warm feelings felt at the end of the hour visit. Ernst Zundel… did not merely shake hands with me; he held mine in his. Eight years later the memory remains strong.”
In 2014 Herskovitz, a leader of the Ann Arbor picket, posted a picture of himself greeting Holocaust survivors at a memorial ceremony organized for their murdered families at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Herskovitz welcomed them with a sign reading “Free Ernst Zundel.”
Herskovitz’ associate McGowan wrote the foreword to a book of Holocaust denial, Resistance Is Obligatory, by Germar Rudolf, another Holocaust denier sentenced to jail in his native Germany for inciting racial hatred. Rudolf ’s book was published by the Barnes Review, described by the SPLC as “one of the most virulent anti- Semitic organizations around.”
On his radio program and website David Duke, the Louisiana anti-Semite, white supremacist, and former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, interviewed another director of Deir Yassin Remembered, the self-described Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. Said Eisen to Duke on the air, “I never heard you, David, say anything that I didn’t think was true.” And Duke ‘s view of Eisen: “an incredibly insightful and thoughtful presentation.”
Herskovitz appears periodically at the Ann Arbor City Council to explain why the Holocaust is a fraud. He, McGowan, and Eisen founded an organization “Jews for Justice for Germans,” which calls for an end to German reparations to Jews, Jewish reparations to Germany to atone for the suffering in icted on that country, and the repeal of all Holocaust denial laws. Unsurprisingly, Holocaust denial is a recurrent, indeed central, theme on the Deir Yassin Remembered website. In late 2016 supporters of the organization picketed the Michigan Theater to protest the showing of the lm Denial, which narrates how an English Holocaust denier was humiliated in court.
On the Deir Yassin Remembered website, in sponsored talks in Ann Arbor, and in person outside the synagogue during their weekly picket, activists promote an array of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories: Jews built gas ovens in the death camps after World War Two to frame the Germans. Jews created and now control ISIS. Jews, more speci cally Israelis, directed the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Trade Towers in New York City. Israel also has organized the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and America, including attacks on Jewish institutions. (The lattera were “false flag” operations designed to throw off suspicion from the real perpetrators.)
The business/personal identification card of a well-known picket leader carried the logo considering the impact of graphically illustrating the content: “Challenging Jewish Power since 2003.” According to a report in the Washtenaw Jewish News, while standing outside Beth Israel in 2012 that same individual summarized his political views in these exact words: “I hate Jews. Whatever happened to them in World War Two they brought on themselves. They deserved everything they got.”
These, then, are the materials from which the SPLC constructed its case against Deir Yassin Remembered. In the same Michigan Radio program of February 28 in which Mark Potok of the SPLC was quoted, Herskovitz sought to frame the issue in terms of free speech. “I feel very fortunate to live in America, where free speech is protected. If I were in Germany or France, I’d be in jail just for speaking my mind. That’s not right to me.” He did not address the central substantive issue of Nazi sympathy and anti-Semitism.
The Southern Poverty Law Center gained national attention in 1987 by destroying in court and bankrupting the United Klans of America, with chapters in 31 states, whose members had lynched an African-American teenager and bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four African-American children. Since then the SPLC has continued to win recognition for its “teaching tolerance” programs in schools, its vigorous legal defense of African Americans and other minorities, its tracking of hate groups, and its opposition to President Trump’s immigration bans.
According to the SPLC’s tally, the current number of hate groups in this country, 917, although lower than in 2011, is over twice as large as in 1999. Much of the recent increase, and the accompanying spate of anti-Semitic incidents, the SPLC attributes to the divisive atmosphere accompanying Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Although as early as 2015 Deir Yassin Remembered sought to place ads reading “America First. Not Israel,” one notes the congruence between their message and Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan.
So far as is known, the picket of Beth Israel by Deir Yassin Remembered is the only sustained action targeting a Jewish house of worship anywhere in the United States. The picket has been condemned by members of the Palestinian-American community, by a great number of local clergymen of all faiths, by the mayor of Ann Arbor, the city council, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and The Ann Arbor News. On learning of Deir Yassin’s anti-Semitic views, The Ann Arbor Observer and several billboard companies have refused to accept ads from the group.
To avoid incidents, Beth Israel Congregation strongly discourages people from engaging with the demonstrators physically or verbally in any fashion.
This article was originally published in the Washtenaw Jewish News. For more, visit their website at www.washtenawjewishnews.org