Approximately 300,000 people from all walks of life descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., yesterday to demonstrate their support for Israel, call for the release of the hostages in Gaza, and denounce the rapid increase in antisemitism since October 7.
The rally, officially called “The March For Israel,” was organized by a group of leading American Jewish organizations including the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Communities across America sent delegations of attendees who arrived by the thousands, proudly representing their various communities. The vast majority of attendees were Jewish, according to media reports, though several Christian and Druze delegations were also present at the rally.
The march came 10 days after a massive pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally took place in Washington and at a time in which Jews across the world are feeling particularly marginalized.
Since the outbreak of the war on October 7, there has been an approximately 400% increase in antisemitic incidents in the U.S., according to the ADL. Many attendees viewed this march as an act of defiance of such rising hatred both in the U.S. and around the world.
The march marked the largest Jewish gathering in American history, surpassing the size of similar rallies held in 2002 during the Second Intifada and in 1987 concerning the plight of Soviet refuseniks.
Who attended the protest?
The variety of flags on display clearly showed that the crowd represented a broad range of geographical, political, and religious affiliations.
There were orange flags remembering Gush Katif, the settlement in Gaza that Israel forced to evacuate when it withdrew from the area in 2005. There were Druze flags and several iterations of Israeli Pride flags.
Many attendees interviewed expressed gratitude that such a diverse group of Jews and non-Jews could come together at such a time and stand arm in arm, viewing this as a true expression of Jewish unity and solidarity.
Natalie Berger, a senior at Muhlenberg College, shared: “It was extremely powerful to see so many people stand with Am Yisrael today in front of the U.S. Capitol. There was a mutual feeling of love and care for Israel among the crowd that created this supportive and passionate atmosphere,” she said.
Why did participants attend?
During the event, two Israeli women, reflecting on the presence of hundreds of thousands in the U.S. capital, described the experience as “heartwarming.” They felt a sense of solidarity, stating, “Now we feel that we are not alone.”
Josh Levin, a college senior from Orange County, NY, and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, shared his reasons for attending the rally and missing classes for the day.
“I marched in Washington today because, as a proud Jew and a proud American, I have the moral obligation to help ensure the safety of my family and friends in Israel, while also making sure that America knows that antisemitism is unwelcome.”
Throughout the day, American and Israeli flags were seen side by side, signaling a strong sense of pride and gratitude toward both nations from the crowd.
Many Jewish college students have been feeling increasingly threatened by the increase in antisemitic incidents on campuses, as well as by the language used by those protesting against Israel.
A student was recently arrested at Cornell University for making violent threats against the Jewish community there. At Cooper Union in New York City, Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves in the library as pro-Palestinian protesters chanted for the murder of Jews and pounded on the library’s glass windows.
The recent tensions on campuses likely fueled the significant turnout of college students at the rally. Thousands of students wore Hillel International shirts or carried signs calling for an end to campus antisemitism.
Who spoke at the rally?
Speakers at the rally included U.S. lawmakers like Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as Jewish leaders such as Natan Sharansky, Mijal Bitton, and Tovah Feldshuh.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog made an appearance via livestream, telling the crowd, “There is no greater and more just cause than this.”
Here are some of the highlights from their speeches:
- “We are here united, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate. We stand with Israel. We will not hide in the face of adversity,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
- Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson echoed his party and the prevailing mood of the rally, forcefully stating his opposition to a ceasefire. “These calls for a ceasefire are outrageous,” he declared.
- Former Soviet refusenik and Jewish activist Natan Sharansky said, “When in the long years in prison I was told again and again that I’m alone, that I’m abandoned, that we failed, it was enough for me simply to remember all those faces of Jews from America, from Britain, from Canada, who were coming to us to Moscow to support us.”
Sharansky’s appeals for the release of captives in Gaza strikingly echoed his earlier calls for the freedom of Soviet Jews trapped in the USSR.
What was the mood like?
In the crowd, hundreds of signs displayed messages condemning antisemitism and calling for the return of those in captivity.
Slogans such as “Bring Them Home Now,” “Let My People Go,” and “Left and Right Unite Against Antisemites” were prominently seen across the National Mall.
Several Jewish organizations made their presence known at the rally, distributing signs, posters, hats, bracelets, and other protest materials.
The diversity and nuance in the crowd were evident, from Chabad tefillin stations to the Unpacked truck, and signs from both AIPAC and J-Street, two well-known but ideologically distinct Jewish lobbying groups.
The array of signs representing different cities showed the lengths people traveled to voice their support. Attendees from Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, and many other cities spent hours on buses to stand in solidarity with Israel and the broader Jewish community.
Despite being designated a SEAR Level One event, indicating a high level of safety coordination between federal and local authorities akin to the Super Bowl, there were no major security incidents reported.
There was a significant presence of local and federal law enforcement and several medic tents staffed by the D.C. Fire Department, EMS, and Hatzolah.
The March for Israel took place five weeks after Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals and kidnapping over 240 civilians.
Originally Published Nov 15, 2023 05:41PM EST