(Editor's note: This story contains information not in the print edition.)
With the G-20 Summit only two weeks away, area Jews and Jewish groups are starting to take advantage of the upcoming arrival of world leaders and international media in Pittsburgh with a slate of events ranging from activism, to education, to prayer.
Programming in the coming weeks includes efforts by the United Jewish Federation and the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition to change policies in Iran and Sudan respectively, an evening with talks by foreign policy experts hosted by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee and interfaith services to promote religious dialogue in the city.
But organizers also note the limits of piggybacking on the event.
World leaders have a set agenda. International media is focused on big stories.
“The G-20 meeting participants are somewhat impervious to grassroots activism,” said Jeffrey Cohan, director of community and public affairs for the UJF.
The Iran Task Force of the UJF is gathering signatures on a petition asking the United States and other G-20 countries to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
“We therefore urge the U.S., the G-8 and the other members of the G-20 to make full use of its upcoming meeting in Pittsburgh to review its current policy with Iran and to take action to impose comprehensive and effective sanctions and other economic measures on the Iranian regime in the hope that this will compel the Iranian regime to change its behavior and abandon its illicit nuclear program,” the petition reads, in part.
The umbrella group United Against Nuclear Iran is also promoting the petition.
Although the G-20 Summit is primarily an economic forum, world leaders including President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have marked the Pittsburgh Summit as a deadline for taking action against Iran if the country does not make moves toward diplomacy. It’s unclear what that action may look like, though.
Several members of the local Iran Task Force are in Washington, D.C., today along with members of the National Inter-Agency Task Force on Iran to meet with Obama administration officials. The effort is being called “Iran Advocacy Day.”
The local Iran Task Force and other Pennsylvania groups have also been working to get state lawmakers to pass divestment measures against Iran, part of a broader effort to economically squeeze the country by limiting investments in its oil and gas industry.
Those divestment calls mirror efforts by the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition to impose sanctions and divestment on Sudan for its actions in the Darfur region.
On Sept. 14, the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition plans to hold a “Solemn Street Walk for Darfur and South Sudan” through Downtown with a group of Darfuri refugees who have recently settled in Pittsburgh. The event begins at noon with a press conference on the steps of the City-County Building. The walk will head down Grant, Liberty and Wood Streets, concluding in Mellon Square Park around 1 p.m. for a “speak out” with music by the Guinea West Africa Drum and Dance Ensemble.
The event is currently scheduled to include at least three city council members — Bill Peduto, Darlene Harris and Patrick Dowd — County Councilman William Robinson and State Rep. Dan Frankel, as well as Darfuri and South Sudanese spokespeople, high school and college students, clergy and Darfur activists from inside and outside Pennsylvania.
The Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition wants the G-20 nations to influence policy in Sudan by making aide such as debt cancellation and relief measures dependent on changes to the government’s actions in Darfur and South Sudan. The Coalition also wants G-20 nations to enforce existing sanctions taken against the government of Sudan.
The Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition said it has more than 15,000 postcards and petitions addressed to Obama concerning the issue in Darfur. The Coalition plans to give those letters to representatives of the western Pennsylvania congressional delegation at the Sept. 14 event. At the event, the Coalition also plans to renew calls for state and county governments to divest pension funds of companies with ties to Sudan.
The Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition, led by coordinator David Rosenberg, is planning other events in the run up to the G-20 Summit of the world leaders.
The City Council welcomed the newly arrived Darfuris in a formal ceremony on Sept. 8 and the local Darfuris will join with Darfur refugees living in Erie and Philadelphia for a Ramadan break-the-fast planned for Sunday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the South Hills.
In addition to world leaders and international media, the G-20 Summit is also expected to bring analysts and experts to the Pittsburgh area. The Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee is taking advantage of these guests by hosting “The G-20: How Will Leading Nations Lead? Great Powers in a Time of Great Change” on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. at Rodef Shalom.
David Shorr and Andrew S. Weiss will explain the strategic goals of the United States, Russia and other world powers during the G-20 Summit, offering a glimpse of what world leaders will be doing while in Pittsburgh, placing it in the context of a rapidly changing world.
Shorr is the program officer in policy and outreach at the Stanley Foundation, focusing on national security and the U.S. role in the world. He has worked previously on issues ranging from arms control to conflict resolution to human rights and humanitarian crises. He is also a contributor to the blog Democracy Arsenal.
Weiss is director of the RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia. From 1998 to 2001, he managed U.S.-Russian relations for the National Security Council staff. From 2002 to 2008, he worked for subsidiaries of AIG, mostly as an investment strategist and researcher of global commodity and energy markets for AIG Financial Products Corp.
The meeting is open to the public, and those interested in attending can R.S.V.P. by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (412) 605-0816.
PAJC Executive Director Deborah Fidel said her group and the American Jewish Committee frequently hold events on international relations of more direct interest to Jews and Israel. The G-20 offers a chance to talk about things more indirectly related.
“This is big news for Pittsburgh and our membership is very interested and engaged in world affairs,” Fidel said. “So we are providing a service to them by offering some intellectually stimulating and educational background on relations among global powers.”
On Monday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. the Jewish community is joining Christians and Muslims for an interfaith service at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland sponsored by Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania and the Religious Leadership Forum of Southwest Pennsylvania.
(Eric Lidji can be reached at email@example.com.)