We are dismayed by your recent participation in the International Conference of Mayors in Israel, sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is clear from the press reports that your presence was part of a coordinated propaganda effort to make apartheid conditions in Israel seem ordinary and to distract from its flagrant ongoing violations of international human rights law. We find it deeply troubling that you would allow the trauma of our Jewish community to be co-opted by a foreign government—a state that asserts itself as a representative of Jewish people everywhere, but whose reprehensible policies many Jews in Pittsburgh and around the world reject.
In the past year, the Israeli Knesset passed the equivalent of a constitutional amendment that legalizes apartheid policies that place Jewish people at the top of a hierarchy and discriminate against Palestinians and non-Jewish Israelis. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank isolates Palestinian cities and villages behind a wall—the same kind of wall that you have criticized the Trump administration for proposing along the US border.
It should be noted that your trip coincided with the 25th anniversary of a heinous massacre perpetrated by a fanatical Israeli-American settler in the city of Hebron. In this same week the Netanyahu administration formed a coalition with militant right-wing parties that brazenly promote ethnic cleansing, and praise the perpetrator of the Hebron mass murder. The conference also coincided with the release of a UN report that determined that Israeli forces intentionally shot civilians in Gaza, killing children, journalists, medics and unarmed protesters.
We’ve seen the right wing—in both the US and Israel—distort and use the Tree of Life tragedy as if criticism of Israel somehow endangers diaspora Jewish communities. Israeli officials like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised Trump and tried to falsely equate white supremacist violence with the movement for Palestinian rights. Your embrace of their administration, and your visit, are demonstrations of support for this deceptive tactic and for Israel’s apartheid policies, its ongoing occupation, and other human rights violations. At the same time you have failed to take measures to confront the tide of white supremacy in our own backyard.
We are resolute in our battle against racist nationalism, and we reject attempts to turn our tragedy into calls for more police, surveillance of civil rights activists, attacks on Palestinian rights, and collaboration between US and Israeli law enforcement.
We formed our local coalition to end police exchange programs between US law enforcement and Israeli military because of the harm they cause to communities in both countries. Exchanges between US police and the Israeli army promote a brutal military occupation as a positive model for community policing. Under the banner of “counter-terrorism” training, Israel is presenting lessons learned from 50 years of illegal military occupation over a Palestinian population deprived of human and civil rights. We are aware that our Chief of Police, Scott Schubert, participated in one of these exchanges last year. Racial profiling, violent suppression of protest, massive surveillance, militarization of school security and the ongoing displacement of people from their homes are not lessons US law enforcement or US mayors should be bringing home.
Similarly, this mayoral junket to Israel exhibits a callous disregard for black and brown people whose lives are most impacted by racial profiling, military occupation, cultural erasure, and violent suppression of free speech – be it in in Occupied Palestine, Israel, or the United States.
You have publicly embraced the Israeli government and their private sector partners, praising their security and urban development enterprises while remaining silent on the brutal ongoing occupation of the West Bank, siege on Gaza, targeted killings of children, journalists and other civilians, and blatantly discriminatory legal system. Your alignment with this political agenda makes the City of Pittsburgh complicit in international human rights violations. Rather than addressing the systemic racism plaguing Pittsburgh’s own criminal justice system, you have chosen to reinforce its worst elements. We insist that as Mayor, you should always reflect the highest values of justice in all of your encounters when representing Pittsburgh at home and abroad.
Building safe and welcoming communities is a collective effort. One powerful step can be made today: Pittsburgh officials and police must not participate in another exchange program with the Israeli state. Conversations about our safety must take place here in our communities. And the safety of our Jewish communities must not come at the expense of Palestinians, Muslims, Indigenous people, Black people,
People of Color, immigrants, LGBTQ people or other groups targeted by state and vigilante violence.
Now, more than ever, we need a mayor who stands clearly apart from the racist and xenophobic nationalism openly embraced by Trump and Netanyahu.
The Pittsburgh Coalition to End the Deadly Exchange
Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee
Jewish Voice for Peace – Pittsburgh
Veterans for Peace of Western Pennsylvania (chapter 47)
Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America
Friends of Sabeel North America
Pitt Students for Justice in Palestine
Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice
CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) Pittsburgh
International Women’s Strike Pittsburgh
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – Pittsburgh
Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project
Librarians and Archivists with Palestine
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions