Tens of thousands of Jews and pro-Israel activists continue to arrive in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for a mass pro-Israel rally featuring senior Israeli and American officials that aims to bolster support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, as well as the fight against antisemitism in the United States and beyond.
Buses and flights organized by Jewish schools, community centers, synagogues and other organizations brought groups to the rally from across the country. Tuesday’s rally aims to demonstrate broad support for Israel’s war effort and to call for the release of the hostages, in addition to condemning antisemitism. The rally’s organizers — the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — said this is the largest Jewish gathering in the history of the United States. They applied for a permit for 60,000 people, but at the start of the rally said there were 200,000 present, as tallied by the metal detectors at the entrance to the National Mall. An additional 100,000 are watching the livestream.
Earlier on Tuesday, dozens of U.S. Congress members from both political parties convened at the House of Representatives Old House Office Building in Washington to watch footage of the Hamas massacre on October 7 collected by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.
Some 150 members of Congress came to the screening and, according to those present, they left upset, including usually opponents of Israel such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The event on the National Mall known as the "March for Israel" was also attended by popular Israeli singers Yishai Ribo and Omer Adam, with the latter singing Israel's national anthem and receiving loud applause from the crowd.
William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents and one of the organizers, claimed that the number of people present there far exceeds thousands: "There are currently 200,000 and we expect more. We count according to the metal detector at the entrance." He later announced to the crowd that there are 290,000 rally-goers, making it the largest Jewish gathering in US history.
Daroff announced near the end of the rally that "antisemitic bus drivers refused to drive participants to the rally." The Jewish Federation of Detroit confirmed the incident and said that participants flew from Detroit to the capital and were supposed to be picked up by bus from the airport take them the National Mall. They encountered resistance at the last minute from the driver who said that he refused to drive people to the event. According to the federation, the company admitted to the incident and promised to take steps against the driver.
Before that, hundreds of Israelis who were supposed to come to the march on 9 buses chartered by the Israeli-American community organization IAC also received a message at the last minute that the buses were canceled. According to the organizers, they had received confirmation of the buses, but the company canceled without any explanation. The bus company has not yet provided a response to an inquiry from Ynet.
"This is very suspicious," said one of the passengers who was supposed to arrive. "But we won't let that stop us. This is a historic event. We ordered a van instead and we're on our way now, even if we're a little late."
The rally succeeded in connecting bodies that routinely have an ideological chasm between them, such as the American branch of Americans for Peace No and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) led by Morton Klein, who sees Bezalel Smotrich as too moderate a politician.
President Isaac Herzog spoke to the tens of thousands of participants in the rally in support of Israel being held in Washington, and said in a live broadcast from the Western Wall that "the people of Israel are an eternal people - and no one will break us. Thank you to everyone who gathered at the darkest moment of the State of Israel and announced - we are here."
He added: "80 years ago Jews left Auschwitz, and swore never again. Forty days ago, terrorists invaded Israel and slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of Israelis, in the biggest massacre since the Holocaust. Let's shout together: never again. As president I swear to you that we will be healed, we will rise up - and rebuild."
Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Herzog, brother of President Herzog, also spoke and outlined the threat that Hamas poses to the State of Israel. He thanked the American public and the members of Congress and the Senate on both sides of the fence, for their unwavering support for Israel.
Ambassador Herzog also referred to the importance of the rally and the need to raise a voice against antisemitism, saying: "I want to send a message to all the hundreds of thousands of protesters: This is the time to raise your voice. This is the time to protest against the manifestations of antisemitism on campuses and against hateful statements against the Jews."
"The time has come to decide if you stand by a terrorist organization that massacres women, children and the elderly or if you stand by democracy and by Israel, which is doing everything it can to protect the lives of citizens on both sides of the fence. There are defining moments in history - this is one of those moments," the ambassador said.
Speakers at the rally on the National Mall, included Speaker of the US House of Representatives Mike Johnson, a Republican, as well as Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst. Other members of Congress and the Senate are also scheduled to speak, as is Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s antisemitism envoy.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and past chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, also spoke. Sharansky is perhaps the only speaker on Tuesday’s lineup who also addressed the two previous mass Jewish rallies in Washington, D.C. — in 1987 on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and in 2002 to support Israel during the Second Intifada.
Relatives of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, including Rachel Goldberg, the American-Israeli mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin spoke, as will include college students discussing campus antisemitism.
Non-Jewish speakers, included John Hagee, the conservative evangelical founder of Christians United for Israel; President Rochelle Ford of Dillard University, a historically Black university in New Orleans; and Anila Ali, a Pakistani-American activist and president of the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council.
The rally was announced last week, roughly a month after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, killing and wounding thousands and taking more than 200 captives. Since then, Israel has fought a war in Gaza aiming to depose Hamas, an aim the Biden administration has vocally supported. The war has sparked mass pro-Palestinian protests around the world decrying the thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza and calling for a ceasefire. The fighting has also led to a spike in antisemitism in the United States, Europe, and around the world.
First published: 19:41, 11.14.23