More than 400 community members came together in support of Israel and to hear a briefing on its Operation Protective Shield delivered by a Middle East security expert Tuesday night, filling Levinson Hall at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.
The hour-long program, which drew audience members from throughout Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs — as well as from across Jewish denominational lines — included an appeal for financial support for the Israeli victims of Hamas terror, and a first-hand account of life in Israel amidst rocket fire by Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai, who recently returned from Jerusalem.
The program, arranged by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, reinforced a message of unequivocal support for Israel.
“Pittsburgh’s Jewish community stands in solidarity with Israel and its right to defend itself,” the Federation’s Community Relations Council chairman, Skip Grinberg, told the crowd.
Keynote speaker David Pollock, a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been immersed in the politics of the Middle East for decades, explained that while he was confident that peace could eventually be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the wider Arab world, peace is not possible between Israel and Hamas.
“Israel is strong, and that is what will bring peace someday,” Pollock said. “But not with Hamas. Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction.”
In regard to the current crisis, Pollock said that Hamas is losing the war, both militarily and politically. Israel, he said, has demonstrated that it is capable of defending itself, not just through the employment of its Iron Dome anti-missile system, but by effective commando raids and its demonstrated capability to immediately shoot down a Hamas drone over Ashdod on July 14.
“Israel is organizing the kind of military pressure that will compel Hamas to accept a ceasefire on Israeli terms,” Pollock asserted.
While he said that news outlets favor following the stories of Palestinian civilians suffering in Gaza, Pollock reassured those assembled that the United States government is “solidly behind Israel’s right to self-defense.”
Despite a constant media spin that attempts to “paint this in a way that’s unflattering to Israel,” Pollock said, “Hamas is losing the political war.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has publicly stated that Hamas is to blame “not only for starting the war and for conducting it in an inhuman fashion, but for rejecting a ceasefire,” Pollock said. “Kerry has denounced Hamas in the strongest possible terms.”
And in a recent private briefing attended by Pollock, “a very senior government official said that the U.S. wants this to end in a way that does not provide any benefits to Hamas.”
“Moreover, Egypt today wants Hamas to come out of this without Hamas gaining anything either,” Pollock added.
He stressed that for much of the Arab world, Hamas is politically losing the current war, noting that even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for a ceasefire, without suggesting any concessions by Israel or benefit to Hamas.
“Abbas has changed his tune from calling Israel’s actions a ‘war crime’ and ‘genocide,’ to saying it’s Hamas that’s committing war crimes by firing rockets indiscriminately,” explained Pollock.
Gibson, who returned from Israel July 10 following a study tour with the Shalom Hartman Institute, described how his recent trip differed from his previous 23 visits to the Jewish state, including having to take refuge in his Jerusalem hotel’s bomb shelter after hearing sirens warning of Hamas rockets, and learning of the torture and murder of a Palestinian boy.
“I prayed so hard for peace last Shabbat when I got home,” Gibson said.
Finkelstein stressed the importance of continued financial support of Israel, citing more than $10 million in immediate needs of Israelis affected by the recent Hamas attacks. Federations around the country have joined together in a common campaign sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America to raise those funds.
The Pittsburgh Jewish community’s first $110,000 was wired to Israel on July 14, he said.
The funds will help provide relief for children who are in the line of Hamas’ fire, affording them with “much needed time away” in summer camps and youth villages, Finkelstein said. Funds also will provide food and medicine for Israel’s elderly and its new immigrants; trauma support; and “flexible assistance” for the 10 communities in the Jewish state that have been hit hardest by the conflict.
A communal gathering of prayer and Torah study at Shaare Torah Congregation, sponsored by the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh, followed the Federation’s program. The gathering, marking the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, was in support of the protection of the citizens of Israel.
A rally in support of Palestinians, organized by two University of Pittsburgh students, will be held on Friday, July 18, from 6 to 7 p.m. on Forbes and Bigelow boulevards in Oakland. The rally has been organized to protest “using American tax dollars for what they feel is the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and to spread awareness about the deepening crisis,” according to the event’s flyer. “At the end of the event, they will be fundraising for charity organizations such as MAP (Medical Aid to Palestinians), CAIR, UNICEF, The Islamic Relief USA, and The Life Relief Foundation.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)