A militant anti-gay church is turning its sights on Jews, planning protests at Jewish institutions across New Jersey.
The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., and known for its “God Hates Fags” slogan, plans to march outside the Cooperman JCC in West Orange, Rutgers Hillel in New Brunswick, United Synagogue of Hoboken, and at the Kosherfest 2009 exhibition at the Meadowlands Expo Center.
The Oct. 27 and 28 protests are part of a series of rallies planned for cities around the country. The church’s website and e-mails offer a stew of derisive comments about “Christ-killers,” “Sin-enabling-children-raping preachers (and Rabbis),” and what organizers are calling their “Just Say No to Goyum[sic]/Hebrew Criminal Enterprises Tour.”
“God Hates your trite sayings, your filthy deeds and filthy everything,” reads an e-mail sent by the church. “Your little vile-talking Jew brats learned all they know about this nasty stuff at the JCCs in New Jersey.”
Tiny but media-savvy, the church gained notoriety about a decade ago when it began picketing the funerals of homosexuals or those they thought were gay. In recent years, church members have picketed the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at other events that are likely to bring news coverage.
Led by Pastor Fred Phelps, the 71 members of the church are mostly members of his family, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The church tends to leave far more detractors than supporters in the wake of its protests, which invariably spark debate about how to react to a hate group that relishes publicity.
ADL is providing synagogues and other Jewish institutions with a bulletin that offers strategies for responding to the group.
The ADL cautions against holding counter-protests or educational events near the WBC protests. Instead, the ADL advises that Jewish institutions essentially ignore the protests and instead sponsor activities that promote tolerance.
“We believe that the WBC is carrying on this campaign in the hopes of getting reaction from the Jewish community and to garner media attention,” said Etzion Neuer, the ADL’s NJ regional director.
United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ issued a statement condemning the “hate-mongering and extremist rhetoric” of the Westboro church.
“We condemn the outrageous expressions of hatred and bigotry toward the Jewish people, Israel, and homosexuals by the Westboro Baptist Church. There is no place among serious people for this kind of intolerance and extreme rhetoric,” said UJC MetroWest president Gary O. Aidekman. “UJC MetroWest and its partner organizations will carry on with their regular activities of the day, ignoring this publicity-seeking and insidious group so as not to give any credence to their message.”
The UJC MetroWest statement said it and its partner organizations, including JCC MetroWest, are committed to denying the church the publicity they seek. “We urge members of the community to conduct their regular activities on Oct. 27 but to avoid engaging with the WBC protesters or confronting them in any way,” according to the UJC release.
The federation also said that law enforcement authorities are aware of the protests and have planned appropriate security measures to prevent violence and maintain public access to the West Orange JCC.
“The Westboro Baptist Church’s demonstrations of hatred and intolerance are not only directed against the Jewish community, but against most Christian denominations and everyone they consider heretics,” said David Lentz, chair of UJC MetroWest’s Community Relations Committee. “This is an opportunity to remain vigilant against prejudice and bigotry of any kind. Our response as people from many different communities and faiths should be to join together and support each other to show the world that this type of hatred only draws us closer together.”
On Wesdensday, JCC MetroWest invited its members to an “Informal Community Dialogue,” from 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on October 27.
“Protecting our members, guests, and staff is the highest priority for us,” wrote Alan Feldman, the JCC’s chief executive officer. “We have had discussions with the appropriate law enforcement agencies and the Anti-Defamation League. Be assured that our internal security team has been fully alerted and prepared.”
Feldman also urged members to ignore the protesters.
“At the JCC, our inclusive values are a source of great pride. Our best response to the hateful messages of the WBC is to conduct business as usual,” he wrote.
Hillel is organizing Rutgers United Against Hate, a “pro-active, peaceful, positive” rally in front of its building on Wednesday, Oct. 28, from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. Leaders are strongly recommending that participants don’t engage the protesters.
“We invite all like-minded people from throughout New Jersey to join us in our peaceful, principled, united stand against hate, defending the Jewish students at New Jersey’s flagship Hillel,” according to a Hillel statement. “Together we will send a strong message that hatred like this has no place on the campus of our state university.”
While picketing outside the Washington office of the ADL earlier this month, Phelps’ daughter Margie told JTA that the group is now focusing on the Jewish community because church members have been “testifying” to gentiles for 19 years that “America is doomed” and they haven’t gotten the message.
“Now it’s too late,” she said. “We’re done with them.”
Margie Phelps added that “one of the loudest voices” in favor of homosexuality and abortion is “the Jews, especially the rabbis.”
“They claim to be God’s chosen people,” she said. “Do you think that God is going to wink at that forever?”
According to the church’s website, its scheduled protests on Oct. 27 include the Cooperman JCC in West Orange (1 p.m.), Elizabeth High School (3:50 p.m.), Hoboken City Hall (4:20 p.m.), and United Synagogue of Hoboken (7 p.m.). On Oct. 28, it plans protests at New Brunswick High School (7:30 a.m.), Rutgers Hillel (8:45 a.m.), Meadowlands Expo Center (10:15 a.m.), the Jewish Community Center of Paramus (12:15 p.m.), and New Jersey Jewish Standard newspaper (1:45 p.m.).
Includes reporting by the JTA