Thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington on Tuesday to show solidarity with Israel as it wages war in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack on October 7.
The rally, called March for Israel, comes after major demonstrations across the The United States and world capitals denounce the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, plunged into a humanitarian crisis.
The event is planned by organizers as partly a response to criticism of Israel, where about 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attack.
Eric Fingerhut, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, which is helping organize the march, said that despite polls showing Americans “overwhelmingly” supporting Israel in its battle against Hamas, “we were hearing more and more opposing voices that are on the margins.” but which are very noisy.
The march was quickly organized, and Jewish federations across the country, as well as schools, synagogues and community centers, sent busloads of participants. Shortly after the doors opened Tuesday morning, the mall was packed with people waving American and Israeli flags and holding signs declaring support from Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia and other places around the country.
“It’s definitely a message of unity,” said Tamara Wilkof, 71, who was among hundreds of people who came to Washington on about 20 buses from Cleveland. She said she believed people had been galvanized by the rise in anti-Semitism since the October 7 attack; another protester mentioned that a Jewish cemetery in suburban Cleveland was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti last weekend.
Ms. Wilkof said that demonstrating the solidarity of the Jewish community was an important signal to any politician who might be wavering in their support for Israel. “It’s like saying, don’t hesitate,” she said.
Educators, artists, students and relatives of some of the hundreds of hostages captured by Hamas are expected to appear, alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog and many U.S. lawmakers, including Speaker Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Most U.S. lawmakers have rejected calls for a ceasefire. They argue that the Israeli military campaign – which the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,000 people – is justified by the imperative to eradicate Hamas.
While U.S. policy has thus far been decidedly pro-Israel, congressional offices and the Biden administration have been increasingly reticent. as well as among Democratic voters in generalon the course of the war and its consequences on non-combatants, particularly children.
Mr. Fingerhut said the march was intended in part to remind Washington politicians that “the majority of the American people» support Israel’s actions, even if they disagree on other issues. Jewish groups that have sometimes conflicts on the right approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict announced plans to attend walking.
Mr Fingerhut said the march was also aimed at showing unity in the face of reports of increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country in recent weeks, in what he called an “attempt to intimidate the Jewish community and others who support Israel.”
For many of those at the mall, even those who disagree with some elements of Israeli policy, it was the wave of anti-Semitism here in the United States that prompted them to join the walk.
“This can be a step in the right direction, a demonstration of unity on the essentials, even if there are fundamental disagreements at the bottom,” said Max Nozick, 27, who said he had noticed a frightening rise anti-Semitic remarks. incidents in his suburban Maryland community.
Some of his Jewish friends were reluctant to come to the march because they did not support Israeli policies, and he too is concerned about the current government in Israel. But he added that denouncing the Oct. 7 attack — and all those who support such violence — was not a complicated issue.
“October 7 specifically, I think we’re talking about terrorists,” said Mr. Nozick, who had a large Israeli flag draped over his back like a cape. “I’m pretty comfortable picking a side there— down, even though I don’t necessarily agree with every policy in the country with the flag I’m carrying right now.”