Witness for Peace

  • August 28, 2019
Witness for Peace

Photo credit: Steve Friess/Tablet Magazine

Background

Witness for Peace (WFP) is an anti-Semitic organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that primarily espouses anti-Israel content and anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish racism, power and influence and dual loyalties. WFP is affiliated with another anti-Semitic group, Deir Yassin Remembered. WFP’s leader and founder, Henry Herskovitz, is a Holocaust denier.

WFP was founded in 2003 by Herskovitz, a former Beth Israel (Ann Arbor) congregant, to protest the synagogue’s support for Israel. WFP has protested outside Beth Israel Congregation on most Saturdays since 2003, after Herskovitz, who describes himself as a “former Jew,” says he “was denied permission to speak to the congregations of local synagogues after he visited the Middle East.”

The group explained its motivation to picket the synagogue in a 2004 statement: “Beth Israel is a political institution as well as a house of worship, using its faith to promote a nationalist agenda. support [sic] of the State of Israel, and by extension, its actions: specifically, Israels [sic] brutal and illegal military occupation of Palestinian lands and the suffering of the Palestinian people.” In 2018, Herskovitz further explained his motivation for picketing on his blog:  “the racism that drives the Jewish state is created and nurtured within the Jewish community, and…Beth Israel was certainly no exception.”

Most photos and video of the weekly protests show a handful of individuals holding signs outside of Beth Israel Congregation. By September 2018, some signs had become anti-Semitic, with one reading “Resist Jewish Power.” Messages on other signs included “Israeli citizens in OUR Congress??” and “AMERICA First, NOT Israel.”

Anti-Semitism

Witness for Peace and Herskovitz have associated with anti-Semites, and Herskovitz’s writings are rife with classic anti-Semitic tropes bemoaning “Jewish Power” and alleging Jewish or Israeli control of foreign governments. Some of his blogs promote the idea that Jews were behind a successful effort to remove a Deir Yassin Remembered billboard in Ohio. (Until early 2019, Herskowitz was on the board of directors of DYR.) “Jewish Power” also seems to refer to what Herskovitz deems the outsized influence that Jews, and particularly Jews in the so-called “Israel lobby,” have over foreign policy: “It’s clear (to me) that Jewish Power needs a little challenging: it’s exemplified in the state of Israel, and its command of major foreign powers, the US among them,” he writes. Elsewhere, Herskovitz writes that the goal of his organization is to “bring awareness of Israel’s crimes and Jewish influence over US foreign policy to the general public.”

In his blog, Herskovitz promotes the book The Leo Frank Case: The Lynching of a Guilty Man, written and published by the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam, and currently banned on Amazon. While it is widely accepted that Jewish factory manager Leo Frank was not guilty of the 1913 murder of 13-year old Mary Phagan, and that his trial was tarnished by anti-Semitism, The Lynching of a Guilty Man argues that Frank, who was lynched by an angry mob while serving time in jail, was guilty and there was no anti-Semitism to speak of during the trial.

In an April 2018 blog post, Herskovitz defended white supremacist and anti-Semite Richard Spencer, writing that Spencer’s self-proclaimed “white identitarianism” can be compared to the fear some Jews have about assimilation and intermarriage: “Perhaps it is the same fear which drives the Jews…that also drives White identitarians like Spencer.” Herskovitz, who had recently attended one of Spencer’s public events with a couple of his WFP cohorts, added that he is neither “for or against” Spencer and that he “wouldn’t mind having a beer with” him. Spencer is currently being sued in federal court for engaging in racially motivated violence as a prominent organizer of Unite the Right 2017, which included the August 11 torchlight march across the University of Virginia campus, at which participants chanted “Jews will not replace us,” as well as the next day’s rally, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer.

On Facebook, Herskovitz’s anti-Semitic views are even more clear. On March 18, Herskovitz wrote: “Bumper sticker suggestion: ‘Anti-Semitism: It’s my right,’” later adding “isn’t it time we threw off the Jewish shackles?” On March 1, he opined: “Ever since Ilhan [Omar] has been accused of ‘anti-Semitism’, many supporters are playing defense, claiming “anti-Zionism is not 'anti-Semitism.’” Weak stuff, imho. I envision the day soon, when the response to being called an "anti-Semite" will be ‘So What? [sic]’”

Holocaust Denial

Herskovitz has demonstrated an affinity with Holocaust denial since at least 2006. He wrote recently that there are “Two facts of the Holocaust: (1) Adolf Hitler made no bones of not liking Jews. (2) Jews were sent to concentration camps; many died. The rest (written orders from Hitler to exterminate Jews, building homicidal gas chambers, and claiming 6 million victims) was concocted to portray Jews as victims in order to cement their claim to eternal victimhood, and reap possible benefits.” According to the Michigan Review, a student-run newspaper at the University of Michigan, Herskovitz had a “warm” meeting with Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel in 2006 and “appears periodically at the Ann Arbor City Council to explain why the Holocaust is a fraud.” Witness for Peace’s blogs do little to explain the group’s Holocaust denial, except by making vague allusions to how Israel is able to allegedly use the Holocaust as a cover for its treatment of the Palestinian people. In an August 1, 2018, blog post, Herskovitz  writes that the Holocaust “as it is presented to us by a Jewish Hollywood and a complicit American press – is the ultimate gate keeper that prevents Palestine’s oppressor from being exposed and brought to justice.”

Community Response

In 2012, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ), a social and environmental justice organization based in Ann Arbor, publicly asked Herskovitz’s group to halt its weekly demonstrations. Chuck Warpehoski, then-director of ICPJ, claimed that members of Witness for Peace “have circulated writings claiming that Jewish religious observances turn Jewish boys and girls into monsters.” He added that “it’s become clear that this is religious harassing and it is our duty to be allies with those who are being targeted. What they are doing is hurtful and counterproductive.” 

In 2013, an array of religious leaders submitted a letter to the Ann Arbor City Council asking it “to take a stand against weekly anti-Israeli protests outside a local synagogue.” The letter describes the actions of Witness for Peace as “harassing and punishing,” adding that “this is not the kind of action that is welcomed in our town. It is not helpful. It is not constructive. It is not respectful at the deepest level of human interaction.”