Allegheny County Council hears from public regarding proposed cease-fire resolution
Israel at warNearly four-hour meeting ended without resolution

Allegheny County Council hears from public regarding proposed cease-fire resolution

Anti-Israel speakers gathered, en masse, to voice support for cease-fire

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein addresses Allegheny County Council on Feb. 20  in opposition to a proposed cease-fire resolution. (Photo by David Rullo)
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein addresses Allegheny County Council on Feb. 20 in opposition to a proposed cease-fire resolution. (Photo by David Rullo)

This story was updated on Feb. 22.

Israel is a murderous, apartheid, colonist state indiscriminately bombing and killing innocent women and children in furtherance of a genocide, according to nearly 50 people who spoke on Feb. 20 in the Green Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse during an Allegheny County Council meeting.

Those speaking against Israel in its war with Hamas — which breached a cease-fire to invade the world’s only Jewish state on Oct. 7 — came to support a cease-fire resolution that was rumored earlier to be introduced at the meeting. After learning no resolution was forthcoming, the anti-Israel speakers called for the resolution to be advanced at the council’s next meeting on March 5.

Most of the comments in favor of the cease-fire resolution included claims that Israel is guilty of war crimes, that the Jewish state is populated by those eager to push the Palestinian people out of Gaza, that Israel is motivated by racism and that it stole its land, to name just a few of the false claims, some echoing antisemitic tropes.

Some in favor of the resolution made cursory mention of the hostages being held in Gaza, claiming that only a cease-fire could provide the mechanism to return them safely to Israel, but widespread condemnation of Hamas’ terrorist attack was missing from the rhetoric of those speakers.

In fact, some, like Brookline resident Eyas Azzuni, voiced disbelief about the atrocities committed by Hamas.

“I have not seen beheaded babies or got names of raped women,” Azzuni said. “These are lies.”

North Side resident Theron Gilliland Jr. also questioned the allegations of Hamas terror.

“The lie that was halfway around the world before the truth had a chance to put on its pants,” Gilliland said, “in addition to the lie that there were 40 beheaded babies, which nobody seems to have seen, the lie is that history started on Oct. 7, 2023.”

While several speakers condemning Israel identified themselves as members of the Green Party, various socialist parties and labor unions, some said they were members of the Jewish community, including a handful associated with Jewish Voice for Peace.

Brighton Heights resident Aaron Kuhn identified himself as a member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community. He said Israel was committing an “ongoing genocide” and was guilty of “death marches,” “ethnic cleansing” and “famine.”

“I reject entirely the excuses that Israel uses to justify their indiscriminate bombing and slaughter of children and other innocents, saying that Hamas is using them as human shields and that they have to continue with this in order to free the hostages,” he said.

While most of the nearly four hours of public comments came from those speaking in favor of an unconditional cease-fire, more than a dozen people urged the council to reject any such resolution.

Squirrel Hill resident and StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Julie Paris noted the double standard Israel is held to in the international community, as well as some of the antisemitism that has occurred locally since Oct. 7.

“I’ve seen antisemitic graffiti cover our city, Jewish students on campus accosted and harassed, ‘Stand with Israel’ signs defaced, stolen and burned, Jewish businesses vandalized, antisemitic flyers left on the doorsteps of Squirrel Hill families, and yesterday, two Jewish teenagers were accosted and sworn at and told that they themselves were killing Palestinian babies,” Paris said.

Beverly Block, who told of the suffering and murder her family endured during the Holocaust, said that introducing and passing a cease-fire resolution would not make Allegheny County Jewish citizens safer.

“We tried to get an Uber and the driver turned us away because he doesn’t drive Jews,” she said. “My son was told in his biology class at Allderdice that Jewish people drink the blood of Muslims. My husband received a text message from a ‘social justice warrior’ telling him that he is a capitalist and the people that Martin Luther King warned her about.”

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivor Audrey Glickman pushed back against some of the claims made during the meeting while explaining that Israel was simply defending itself.

“This is not colonialism as the current propaganda suggests. It is certainly not lighter-skinned people subordinating darker-skinned people,” she said, before suggesting the council’s time would be better spent exploring why Westmoreland County is better at recycling than Allegheny County instead of debating a cease-fire resolution in the Middle East.

JCC President and CEO Jason Kunzman noted the hypocrisy of the council selectively considering whether to condemn Israel for defending itself against Hamas while ignoring the more than 100 other armed conflicts around the world.

“This discriminating focus not only undermines the credibility and the impartiality of the council, but it also perpetrates a narrative that scrutinizes and condemns certain conflicts while ignoring others,” he said.

Tree of Life rabbi and Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivor Jeffrey Myers spoke to the fear felt by his congregants.

“This past Chanukah people were afraid to put menorahs in their window,” he said. “Swatting has become a regular feature at our institutions, as well as bomb threats, as well as other attacks upon Jewish institutions and Jewish-owned businesses. That’s not what we should be about in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.”

And while several of these incidents were covered by the media, some of those in attendance seemed to doubt the rabbi’s claims. One unidentified woman seated in the audience whispered to another, “Wouldn’t that be reported on the news?”

So far in 2024, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has logged 36 antisemitic incidents locally.

Shaare Torah Rabbi Chaim Genack also recounted antisemitic incidents suffered by the community.

“My son has a friend who has a friend walking home about 6 o’clock in the evening. He was accosted and attacked on the street, on the sidewalk near his home because he’s a Jewish boy walking home from school,” Genack said.

Tammy Hepps, a former leader in the Jewish organization Bend the Arc, said she was speaking as someone with deep familiarity with progressive spaces and causes.

“Let’s not delude ourselves,” she said. “A county council resolution is not actually about making any real contributions to resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

Hepps explained that there had been a cease-fire on Oct. 6, violated by Hamas.

The mandate of this group,” Hepps said, “is to improve life in Allegheny County. A foreign policy debate that goes against the official policy of the United States, instead, deliberately tears at the already-fragile multicultural fabric of our community. It won’t quell violence overseas; it incites violence at home.”

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein also noted that a unilateral cease-fire resolution would be divisive and hypocritical, given the other armed conflicts around the world.

He pointed to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, adopted by 35 of 50 states and 43 countries, that lists examples of antisemitism, including applying double standards that require Israel to behave in ways not expected of other democratic nations.

“I witnessed the impact of the barbarism of Hamas,” he said of his recent trip to Israel. “I met with the families of hostages. I visited some of the 200,000 internally displaced Israelis.”

Those at the meeting were largely respectful, although Council President Patrick Catena had to stop proceedings several times to ask for clapping and finger-snapping to stop. In one contentious exchange, he threatened to have people removed for disrupting the proceedings.

Councilmembers weren’t immune to criticism. Several people alleged that Paul Klein, who represents the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, told them that he would support a cease-fire resolution, then changed his mind, seemingly after receiving calls and emails from Allegheny County residents who oppose it.

Klein told the Chronicle he met with several people in favor of a cease-fire resolution. He said that he may have inadvertently given them false hope.

“What I did say was that I had no sense of the degree of interest and possible support this might have in County Council but I that I would go back and talk about his,” he recounted.

Klein said those he met with provided him with some suggested language for the resolution. When he looked at the language several days later, it concerned him, he said.

“I made a decision at that point that it was maybe best to hold off before pushing any further down the path of a resolution, but I told them they could come to our council meeting on the 20th,” he said.

Councilmember Dan Grzybek, who represents much of the South Hills, home to the second largest Jewish community in Allegheny County, told the Chronicle that he spoke with a member of Jewish Voice for Peace about a possible cease-fire resolution and they provided him with suggested language.

Grzybek said that he supports a cease-fire resolution in theory but is concerned about the language. If such a resolution were introduced, he would like it to include language calling for the release of the Israeli hostages, as well.

Neither Grzybek nor Klein knew if a cease-fire resolution would be introduced on March 5, although both said they wouldn’t be the councilperson introducing it.

One speaker at the meeting referenced a councilmember who seemingly celebrated the Hamas attack.

Councilmember Bethany Hallam reposted a tweet on Oct. 7 that featured a poem about breaking down walls and a celebratory video of Hamas breaking down a security gate on their way to murder, rape and kidnap Israeli civilians, including children.

Those wishing to make comments at the March 5 Allegheny County Council meeting must register here. Registration closes 24 hours before the meeting. PJC

A call to Councilmember Bethany Hallam was not returned before this story was published.

David Rullo can be reached at

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