Several dozen Pittsburghers joined for a “Rally for Peace and Solidarity in Israel” in Oakland’s Schenley Plaza a few hours before the start of Shabbat last Friday, while across the street anti-Israel activists chanted a slogan synonymous with a call for the elimination of the Jewish state. Those who came out to support Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, roped off a section of Schenley Plaza with Israeli flags as they sat on blankets, sang songs, danced and ate challah.
Niv Loberant, a Taylor Allderdice senior who holds Israeli citizenship, felt it was important to attend the pro-Israel rally because of what she had seen on social media and in the news, she said.
“I was born and raised in Israel and I’ve been seeing a lot of misinformation being spread by the media,” she said. “People who aren’t doing research but seeing celebrities like Gigi Hadid posting pro-Palestinian stuff without doing research and then spreading misinformation, including antisemitic information. I think it’s important to support what I believe in. I support love and peace and don’t want to see people dying on either side.”
Across the street, in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning on the corner of Forbes and Bigelow avenues, anti-Israel protestors chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and held signs reading “Stop funding apartheid.”
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a “call-to-arms for pro-Palestinian activists,” according to information on the American Jewish Committee’s website. The slogan calls for the establishment of a state of Palestine “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing the State of Israel and its people. It is also a rallying cry for terrorist groups and their sympathizers, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to Hamas, which called for Israel’s destruction in its original governing charter in 1988.”
The anti-Israel rally in Oakland was sponsored by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jewish Voice for Peace-Pittsburgh, the Thomas Merton Center, Trans YOUniting and the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
A mix of students, families, some men and women wearing kippahs, women in hijabs, a few apparent Antifa protesters donning the now-familiar all-black uniform and masks, and others swelled the crowd to more than 250 people.
The anti-Israel rally, lasting close to 90 minutes, featured speakers from the sponsoring organizations as well as the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Coalition, BDS Pittsburgh and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
Between each speech, the crowd chanted “From the river to the sea,” “Resistance is justified, when people are occupied” and “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine will never die.”
Wasi Mohamed, former executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, who stood in solidarity with Pittsburgh’s Jews following the antisemitic massacre at the Tree of Life building in 2018, was the final speaker at the anti-Israel rally. He called for unity, emphasizing the link between white supremacy, antisemitisim and Islamophobia.
“Understand that racism, sexism, religious bigotry, LGBTQIA hate and other prejudices are intersectional,” he said. “We must also recognize how these systems of oppression inform our foreign policy and always have.”
Mohamed told the Chronicle that Israeli police raiding the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan was an escalation of an already tense relationship.
“I think it was gasoline on a fire,” he said. “In Ramadan, when people couldn’t gather it escalated.”
Mohamed said he was not a Palestinian and that he was working to find a middle way in the conflict.
“I’m doing my best to build bridges through conversation,” he said. “My vision for the region is one where everybody has self-determination, everybody has safety. That requires the recognition of Jewish and Muslim and Palestinian self-determination.”
“I want peace for both sides,” said Christine Mohamed, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). “I don’t want to see people hurt. This isn’t an anti-Jewish thing. This is criticizing the Israeli government, not attacking the Judaic faith. I have many friends that are Jewish and that’s why we tried to make sure there were Jewish voices here.”
Those Jewish voices included representatives from Jewish Voice for Peace, “a radical anti-Israel activist group that advocates for a complete economic, cultural and academic boycott of the state of Israel,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. The anti-Zionist JVP also calls for the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
JVP member Dani Klein told the Chronicle he was a citizen of Israel and was motivated to speak at the anti-Israel rally because people were dying “in a place I love. I have loved ones who are Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and atheist.”
“The rhetoric coming from Israeli politicians is extremely racist,” Klein continued. “There are videos on social media not being shared by the mainstream media of Jewish extremists attacking people.”
Klein said that he disagreed with the characterization that Hamas is responsible for all the violence in the region and that he believes “they are leveraging an appropriate response to a century of targeted oppression and violence against their people.”
Hamas has been designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization since 1997 and has been committing terror attacks against Israel for decades. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel and is rife with antisemitism.
Rona Kaufman, one of the organizers of the pro-Israel gathering, said the message coming from across the street was unambiguous.
“‘From the river to the sea’ feels very clear to me,” she said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.