WASHINGTON (RNS) — Thousands of U.S. Jews and their allies rallied for Israel on the National Mall Tuesday (Nov. 14), in one of the largest and most bipartisan D.C. marches in recent memory.
The March for Israel brought together between 100,000 and 200,000 demonstrators, according to organizers, who gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Gaza militant group Hamas, which killed 1,200 people. Demonstrators and speakers loudly proclaimed their opposition to any cease-fire in Israel’s massive military counteroffensive and demanded that the estimated 240 hostages taken by Hamas be freed.
“No cease-fire,” the crowds shouted. Holding up posters of the hostages, they demanded, “Bring them home!” And pointing out the long history of antisemitism and persecution of Jews, culminating in the Holocaust, they chanted, “Never again!”
The three-hour main event, against a backdrop of fluttering U.S. and Israeli flags, featured an array of top Democratic and Republican lawmakers sharing an open-air stage and even holding hands. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson and the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, came together on the stage with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa to declare that they have Israel’s back.
Several noted that they flew to Israel days after the Oct. 7 attack to comfort Israelis in their time of grief and said they will continue to rally for financial and moral assistance as the Israeli army mounts its ground attack on Hamas.
“We stand with you and we will not rest until you get all the assistance you need,” said Schumer, who is Jewish, before leading the crowd in chants of “Am Yisrael Chai,” or “the people of Israel live.”
The march was intended as a response to numerous demonstrations across the country and the world — some led by Jews — calling for an end to Israel’s retaliatory strikes in Gaza, which have reportedly killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, leveled much of Gaza’s infrastructure and plunged the territory into a humanitarian crisis.
Just one day earlier, a group called Rabbis for Ceasefire convened outside the Capitol. Other Jewish activist organizations such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace have demonstrated in New York City; Durham, North Carolina; and Philadelphia, among other places.
At the March for Israel, those pleas were roundly discredited. During his speech, Johnson, an evangelical Christian, declared calls for a cease-fire to be “outrageous.” The crowd erupted in response, with many spontaneously launching into one of the loudest chants of the day: “No cease-fire! No cease-fire!”
Rally speakers for the most part avoided mention of Palestinians, Israel’s 56-year occupation of Palestinian land or its 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nor was there mention of Israel’s government leaders or of the failed peace solutions.
The rally was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, two of the largest and most centrist U.S. Jewish organizations.
In a bid to demonstrate pan-Israel support, organizers invited televangelist John Hagee, an ardent Christian Zionist, whose Christians United for Israel sends millions of dollars to Israel. Hagee made no bones of his Christian view that Israel is the fulfillment of God’s ultimate plan.
“Israel is not merely a state,” he said. “When millions of Zionists mention Israel, they don’t mean the only freedom-loving democracy. Israel is this and more. Israel is the apple of God’s eye. Israel is the shining city on the hill. God says of Israel, ‘Israel is my firstborn son Judah.’ Jerusalem is the city of God. Jerusalem is the shoreline of eternity.”
The event also featured three families of hostages who addressed the crowds in withering, mournful words.
“Why?” asked Rachel Goldberg, the mother of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who is a hostage, presumably in Gaza’s underground tunnels. “Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen and buried alive? These children of God range in age from 9 months to 87 years. They are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindu. Why are they being left underground in the dirt?”
Organizers took unusual security precautions for the event, surrounding the National Mall with tall fences and requiring attendees to enter at certain checkpoints through metal detectors.
Participants came from across the country by bus, train and plane.
Joshua Abrams of Rockville, Maryland, voiced ambivalence about the Israeli government and framed his views as “a little bit apolitical” when it comes to Israel. But he felt compelled to attend the march in part out of a desire to express solidarity with fellow Jews, citing concerns about antisemitic threats facing Jewish people worldwide.
“The thing that terrifies me the most is that Jews are a drop in the bucket in the sea of humanity,” he said. “Jews are a very small minority. … It’s really easy to snuff minorities out because there aren’t very many.”
As for Israel’s ongoing ground assault into Gaza, Abrams said the entire situation left him somewhat dismayed.
“I’m in favor of peace, but at the same time, when there’s an existential threat that’s actually leading to the murder of innocents, what do you do?”
Brian Muni and his wife traveled from Nyack, New York, for the event, citing their daughter — who recently returned from Israel after living there for three years — as inspiration.
“We’re here just basically in solidarity for Judaism and Israel and humanity,” Muni said. He said the return of the hostages was “paramount.”
Wrapped in an Israeli flag, Shira Shvartsman, a Brooklyn, New York, native with Israeli citizenship, argued global criticism of Israel’s response to the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 is often rooted in forms of antisemitism.
“When it comes to Jews, we always have to prove ourselves,” she said. “We always have to explain and justify our actions, whether in retaliation or not. I think that that’s rooted in antisemitism.”
As for the question of cease-fire, Shvartsman insisted the proposal doesn’t grasp the situation faced by Israelis.
“I think that people calling for a cease-fire maybe don’t fully understand that if a cease-fire happens, that’s probably the end of Israel,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that anyone who’s against the cease-fire condones what’s going on to the innocent people in Gaza. I just think that Hamas got us to the point where they left us no choice. It hurts us too — it does, whether people believe it or not.”
Sitting along the edge of the event holding a “Christians stand for Israel” sign were Amy and Rick Bookwalter, a Catholic couple from Manassas, Virginia.
“I come to the March for Life in January every year, and this is a march for life,” said Amy Bookwalter, referencing the anti-abortion rally that meets annually on the National Mall. “I love the Jewish people. I’m a gentile, obviously, but these are our brothers and sisters through adoption through Jesus.”
She said she hoped their presence at the rally would stand as a symbol against antisemitism.
“Hatred toward Jews is real, and it’s evil to the core, and it needs to stop,” Amy Bookwalter said.