30 July 2009

Philly 2009: Hate group protest planned

While our annual Jewish genealogy conferences are always exciting for many reasons - usually focusing on family history - this year's edition may have a bit more.

Daniel Sieradski, digital media editor at JTA.org, sent me a press release he had received concerning a planned protest at the conference by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.

Yes, the name is familiar and you've seen them on the news. Led by Fred Phelps, it is the same group that spouts anti-gay, anti-Jewish and anti-black rhetoric. The ADL lists it as a hate group.

Tracing the Tribe was simply going to ignore it, not wanting to give them any publicity.

However, the Jewish Exponent just posted a story on the planned protest this weekend in Philadelphia, which will target the conference, area synagogues and Jewish institutions. Tracing the Tribe felt its readers should be informed.

According to the press release, Philadelphia is on their radar because of the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, at the Sheraton City Center Hotel. They plan to protest for 45 minutes mid-day Saturday and for 30 minutes very early Sunday morning.

As soon as Tracing the Tribe received the information, conference co-chair David Mink was informed.

Why are they targeting a Jewish genealogy conference?

The conference is co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). According to the hate group, it is targeting the IAJGS. In the church's words:

"Yes. Israel has dealt treacherously with the Lord, and long ago trashed (thereby invalidating) His ancient covenant with her. The Jews killed Christ, and the genealogical lines of the 12 tribes and the Levitical priesthood are lost, until Christ returns and saves 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe). Hence, the IAJGS is a fraud."
The Exponent spoke to the hate group's attorney:

Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney for the group, who was contacted by phone, said that church members are targeting Jewish institutions in as many cities as they can get to, and that their message to Jews is clear: "You killed Christ, and you are not going to get away with that and you know it."
Philadelphia's police department spokesman was interviewed by the Exponent:
Captain William Fisher, a police department spokesman, said that nearly two weeks ago, the church informed police of its plans. Fisher noted that officers will be stationed at each of the designated buildings.

"They themselves are not a violent group of people, although some of the things they protest for can infuriate other citizens. They use the First Amendment greatly to their advantage," said the officer, who added that Westboro members have shown up in town numerous times in the past decade to protest various events.

"They don't just protest against Jewish people. They protest against Catholics, gays and government, and everything in between," said Fisher, adding that the Jewish community appeared well-informed and prepared for the demonstrations.
Some Greater Philadelphia synagogues have received more than 20 faxes from the church.

ADL associate regional director Nancy Baron-Baer told the Exponent that it just seems like their primary goal is to gain publicity for themselves.

She also provided good advice to conference attendees and to other sites where protests may take place:
Baron-Baer stressed that Jewish groups should not organize any counterprotests and that individuals attending services or other events should not speak to the protesters.

"My advice would be not to react, don't directly engage them or confront them. Just go about your business," said Baron-Baer, who added that any instance of hate speech can be made into a teachable moment about spreading a message of respect.
Read the complete Jewish Exponent story at the link above.

See you in Philadelphia!


  1. Anonymous4:21 AM

    Thanks for posting this information. While they are a group that we would all like to ignore, it is best that we are informed when their activities are on our doorsteps.

  2. Hi, Marlene. The advice from ADL about not confronting those protesting is important. These groups WANT their opponents to actively engage them during such protests so the hate group can raise its profile. This one may be difficult to ignore as so many of us attending the conference have family histories in which persecutions played a major role. The essential reason for this protest was stated by their attorney, and we, as Jews, have heard this accusation throughout history. On the other hand, there should be media covering this protest and that publicity may raise the positive profile of Jewish genealogy (which is a good thing!)

  3. I am registered for the conference, but due to family medical reasons, am unable to attend. While browsing the blog to see what is happening in Philly, this item brought sadness to me. I was raised early on in a Southern Baptist Church, protestant mother, catholic father...later in life converted to Catholicism myself. My father-in-law was jewish, and as a result I have become very interested and fascinated by exploring his side of the family...As one of many who comes from family with varied religious experiences, it always troubles me that so many still suffer from ignorance and misinterpretation, not only of other people and cultures, but most strikenly of their own religion. The narrowmindedness, hatred, and lack of compassion of many in the Christian religion is a disgrace to all that Christianity stands for... I, for one, would have seriously considered confronting them...but I understand the reasons for not...they have no reasonableness to their thought processes.