An anti-Semitic group that's been protesting at a synagogue in Ann Arbor was added to a national hate group list earlier this month.
The group "Dier Yassin Remembered" (sometimes referred to as “Witnesses for Peace”) has picketed outside the Beth Israel synagogue with anti-Israeli messages for over a decade now.
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.
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 as of late 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.