Antisemitic incidents continue to plague Pittsburgh
SecurityAntisemitic uptick continues in region since Oct. 7

Antisemitic incidents continue to plague Pittsburgh

Signs supporting Israel defaced and stolen, white supremacist flyers and more

A "We Stand with Israel" sign was defaced in Squirrel Hill. (Photo provided by Julie Paris_
A "We Stand with Israel" sign was defaced in Squirrel Hill. (Photo provided by Julie Paris_

A variety of antisemitic and anti-Israel incidents continued last week in Pittsburgh.

On May 13, an individual was caught stealing “I Stand With Israel” lawn signs from yards in Squirrel Hill.

Molly Braver was outside doing chores when she noticed a white truck park near her home. The driver got out and walked into her neighbor’s yard, took their sign and started to walk away.

“I said to the guy, ‘What are you doing? You’re not allowed to take that,” Braver said. “You do not have permission.’ He was like, ‘You support genocide.’”

Molly Braver took photos of a man stealing “We Stand with Israel” signs in the Shadyside neighborhood. (Photo by Molly Braver)

Braver and her boyfriend engaged the would-be sign thief in a loud and heated argument that drew the attention of their neighbor, who came outside and told the man he didn’t have permission to take their sign.

The criminal eventually left but not before Braver took his picture and noted his license plate number. Her boyfriend noticed other lawn signs in the back of his truck.

Once the thief left the scene, Braver posted the incident to the Facebook group Jewish Pittsburgh to alert others.

Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said that the individual was identified and charged, thanks to Braver’s work.

“We believe he was strategically targeting yards that had these signs,” Brokos said. “It seemed like he knew exactly where to go. He pulled right up to these homes, got out and pulled out the sign. I do believe he had done some prior reconnaissance.”

Another sign in the neighborhood was defaced, with the word “Israel” scribbled over and replaced by the word “Slaughter.” A skull was drawn on top of the sign’s Star of David. It is not known if there is a connection between the incident and the signs that were stolen.

Brokos said the incidents illustrate why Federation has created a Virtual Block Watch Program.

Those participating in the voluntary program register their address and then, if a crime against the Jewish community is committed, Federation will reach out and ask the participants to provide camera coverage from the time of the criminal activity.

“The whole notion is to expedite obtaining video evidence if something has happened,” Brokos explained. “A lot of times, police have to go door-to-door in a neighborhood canvas. This will expedite the response time because we’ll know who has camera coverage and is willing to share that information.”

Decals that can be affixed to doors or windows are distributed to people participating in the program.

Those interested in learning more or joining the program can do so at the Federation’s website.

Antisemitic flyers
Shadyside residents were targeted with antisemitic flyers placed on their cars on May 18.

A Jewish resident said that she first noticed the flyers — distributed by a known white supremacist group — when a couple stopped and pulled one off a parked car.

“I heard them talking and they said, ‘Jewish’ and ‘What’s going on?’ They took the flyer and left.”

The resident said she saw and removed flyers on cars parked on streets near Walnut Street.

“I took one off and it said, ‘Free Palestine.’ I looked through it and realized these were highly antisemitic flyers, and I was completely outraged.”

A white supremacist group distributed flyers conflating their ideology with the war in Gaza. (Name withheld)

Another flyer had the headline “Every single aspect of USA politics is Jewish.” Still another read “Every single aspect of 9/11 is Jewish.”

A smaller postcard-sized flyer was titled “Watch Europa the last battle” and “White lives matter.”

Brokos said that while the hate group is known and has distributed flyers in the city previously, this is the first time they’ve included the “Free Palestine” rhetoric with their antisemitic conspiracies.

“I urge people to report this via our incident report form,” she said. “It’s not illegal to put flyers on cars, so this is not something we encourage people to call 911, but we do track this type of activity, not just locally but throughout the country.”

Pittonkatonk, which took place May 11 at Pittsburgh’s Vietnam Veterans Pavilion in Schenley Park, bills itself as an annual celebration of May Day, social justice and community.

The event’s website says it is “a one of a kind musical festival, free and open to all, connecting the dots between community, organizers and euphoric musical experiences.” It lists the Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Grable Foundation as some of its sponsors.

This year’s festival took a decidedly anti-Zionist turn, according to some in attendance.

Jeremy Kazzaz said the festival is usually one of his favorite events in the city, but called this year’s festival “just another thing that has been transformed into an expression of antisemitism.”

The event, he said, featured spoken word pieces by a Muslim and Jewish woman, each calling for a cease-fire in Israel’s war with the terrorist organization Hamas; balloons with anti-Israel phrases; and various people in the crowd chanting antisemitic tropes, including “From the river to the sea” and “Free Palestine.”

Kazzaz said he was troubled by the presentation of a Pittsburgh City Council proclamation sponsored by Councilperson Barbara Warwick.

The proclamation recognized the festival’s contribution to Pittsburgh’s art scene and its commitment to artistic, social and musical education, and declared May 11, 2024, as “Pittonkatonk Day” in the City of Pittsburgh.

Warwick, who left the festival shortly after reading the proclamation from the stage, said she didn’t hear any of the chants while there, but did see a papier mâché balloon in the shape of a bird that had a slogan on it. She also said that people were passing out literature in support of a cease-fire.

She said she wasn’t taken aback by what she saw.

“Pittonkatonk has always been more than just a music festival,” Warwick said. “It’s been around since, I think, 2014 and is a global multicultural gathering of artists, activists and social justice advocates. It definitely wasn’t surprising that the antiwar movement was front and center at the event.”

The councilperson acknowledged that some Jewish attendees told her they felt uncomfortable at the festival.

Warwick said that nothing she saw or heard at the event gave her pause before presenting the proclamation. Instead, she said, it points to the difficulty of distilling nuanced issues to “bumper sticker politics.”

“These kinds of bumper sticker politics end up being more polarizing than unifying,” she said.

Warwick said that hate speech is never acceptable and that she’s been trying to sort out the various statements and symbols she’s seen since Oct. 7. She said she believes that now is the time to engage with one another.

“That’s when we can put down the flags and the banners and start talking to each other,” she said.

Pittonkatonk organizer Pete Spynda told the Chronicle that he “recognizes that topics addressed by musicians and activist organizations may be controversial, and that diverse voices often have conflicting opinions about world events. Pittonkatonk fully supports artists’ rights to express themselves.”

The 2024 event, he said included performers from Colombia, Congo, Puerto Rico, Poland, Canada, Palestine, Brazil and more.

“Pittonkatonk does not censor artists but selects artists we feel would best represent the community spirit of Pittonkatonk.”

He noted that the organization supports and is supported by a range of different nonprofit organizations.

“In particular, representatives from Jewish Voices [sic] for Peace participated by organizing land acknowledgment, spoken word and table activities.”

The Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Grable Foundation didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Chronicle.

Yom Ha’atzmaut
A small group of protesters was present at the Federation’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on May 19.

The event, which was promoted on social media and in the Chronicle, included an Israeli solidarity march that started at Congregation Beth Shalom on Beacon Street and ended at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Darlington Road.

A small group gathered to protest the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Yom Ha’atzmaut event. (Photo by Jim Busis)

The group of less than a dozen protesters, including several members of Jewish Voice for Peace, gathered at the parklet on Murray Avenue near the post office.

How to report antisemitic events
Anyone who has witnessed an antisemitic incident is urged to report it to the Federation through its online form. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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