Jewish leaders concerned about targeting by G-20 protesters

| August 27, 2009

Some local Jewish leaders fear protesters might target synagogues and other locales connected to their faith during the G-20 summit.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, high holy days in the Jewish faith, bookend the G-20, scheduled Sept. 24-25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"It is not good timing," said Lynette Letterman, City Council President Doug Shields’ executive assistant who worked with Pittsburgh police to ensure sufficient security would be available. "When you have so many Jews in one place at one time, you raise security risks."

Concerns center on potential demonstrations by local groups or those who might travel here for the G-20, Letterman said.

"The Jewish community is very skittish," she said.

The Thomas Merton Center in Garfield is hosting seminars designed to encourage nonviolent protests, said Wanda Guthrie, one of the center’s board members. No groups have informed the center of plans to demonstrate over the Israel-Palestine conflict, but not all protesters are working with the center, Guthrie said.

"You never know what is going to happen," she said, "but we have expectations that people will behave when they come here as visitors."

Police Chief Nate Harper met recently with representatives from the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh and the offices of Shields and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle to discuss this issue.

Jewish leaders were concerned when Harper banned officers from working off-duty security details the week of the G-20. The chief reversed that decision after the meeting, but he said the issue was not summit related.

"There will be adequate police services in the Squirrel Hill area," Harper said. "This police coverage for the Jewish holidays should not be confused with the G-20 activity."

It was unclear how many off-duty officers planned to work at synagogues and Jewish centers Sept. 18 and 19 for Rosh Hashanah and Sept. 27 and 28 for Yom Kippur. Special police units will be assigned in Squirrel Hill on Sept. 20, the last day of Rosh Hashanah, Letterman said.

The G-20 is not a forum to discuss Israeli-Palestinian issues, said Jeffrey Cohan, a spokesman for the local chapter of the United Jewish Federation who attended the meeting with Harper.

"The G-20 participants will not be discussing that issue in Pittsburgh in any formal way, to my knowledge," Cohan said. "Since the G-20 is primarily — if not exclusively — an economic forum, the protesters are rightly focusing on income equality, poverty and other pressing economic issues."

Still, the increased presence of protesters in town during an important religious week has heightened security concerns, said Jeffrey Herzog, executive director of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.

"But we believe we have systems in place to make us feel more secure," he said

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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