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Rival rallies coming to Great Neck synagogue

Despite pleas from officials to ignore a planned protest in Great Neck by a self-described anti-Semitic and anti-gay group from Kansas, an anti-Nazi group says it plans a counter demonstration.

The latter group, Militant Jewish Defense, has obtained a permit to protest outside the Chabad of Great Neck synagogue Friday morning, said Lt. Kevin Smith of the Nassau County Police Department.

Militant Jewish Defense says in a phone recording at its office that it plans an "organized anti-Nazi rally" Friday outside the synagogue to protest Westboro Baptist Church members from Kansas who also plan to be there. "The rally will be loud, legal and lawful," Manhattan-based Militant Jewish Defense says.

The Westboro church is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national nonprofit civil rights law firm.

Smith and other officials are discouraging the public from showing up to counterprotest or gawk, saying clashes with the Kansas group will only amplify its voice.

"Without confrontation, there would be nothing to be talked about," said Smith, adding there will be an ample presence at the protest.

Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Town supervisor, said, "The question is to what extent do they raise the stature of this hate group by engaging them?"

The Westboro group says it plans to protest at local synagogues and schools in Great Neck on Friday. The Westboro group says it targets gays and Jews, among others.

One of its leaders, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said Wednesday, "We don't go anywhere where we don't have a counter protest. . . . I can hardly wait."

Also, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's office announced Wednesday that he had called for a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday of the county's Human Rights Commission; the Anti-Bias Task Force planned to develop a "joint statement and reaction" to the planned protest by the Westboro group.