Hundreds gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill on Tuesday evening to mobilize political support for Israel in its military confrontation with Hamas and to help raise funds for Israelis under threat of rocket attacks.
The program, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, drew a religiously diverse crowd from within and outside the Jewish community, most but not all of whom enthusiastically applauded speakers who supported Israel’s ongoing offensive on Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip.
“The Pittsburgh Jewish community stands in solidarity with Israel and the right to defend itself,” said Skip Grinberg, who chairs the federation’s community relations council.
The Israeli attacks have killed nearly 200 Palestinians in densely populated Gaza, while Hamas claimed its first Israeli fatality Tuesday after launching barrages of missiles and rockets in recent days, most of them intercepted by Israeli defenses.
“Hamas is losing the war militarily and politically,” said keynote speaker David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He said Egypt and many Palestinians and other Arabs are distancing themselves from the group, which rejects Israel’s existence.
Mr. Pollock said he remains confident that Israel, despite being under threat, “is strong and that that will bring peace some day, not with Hamas — because Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel — but with the Palestinian people.”
Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, who returned a few days ago from a study trip in Israel, reported on sheltering from a threat of a missile attack below his hotel early in the conflict.
He dedicated his talk to three Israeli teenagers recently kidnapped and killed by militants and a Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli extremists in a revenge killing.
He lamented the Palestinian casualties while holding Hamas responsible for “using them as human shields.”
He pledged to work for a “new reality beyond the violence, the hate, the vengeance” — even if it takes generations.
Jeffrey Finkelstein, chief executive officer for the federation, said Pittsburgh-area Jews have contributed about $150,000 toward a North America-wide campaign to fund emergency relief in Israel. The funds are earmarked toward such causes as aid to impoverished seniors and enabling youths who live within close missile range of Gaza to get trips to summer camps and other respite from the daily barrage.
After the event, some who attended said in interviews they weren’t convinced by efforts to paint Hamas alone as responsible.
Moriah Ella Mason, a member of a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, said the effectiveness of Israel‘s missile defenses raises the question of why it is launching an aerial assault on Gaza, ”which they know is going to create civilian casualties.“ She said the offensive challenges “Jewish values of peace and peacemaking.“
But James Busis, whose teenage daughter is scheduled to visit Israel in the coming days, said he supports Israel’s actions. “Unfortunately you have to defend yourself with force” when under lethal threat, he said, but he is confident Israel will emerge secure.
Peter Smith: email@example.com or 412-263-1416.