Tens of thousands of people have joined a rally in Washington, DC, to voice solidarity with Israel in its fight against Hamas and condemn anti-Semitism.
Tuesday’s “March for Israel” took place on the National Mall under heavy security, with senior members of Congress addressing a crowd of people waving the flags of the United States and Israel.
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Many raised placards calling on the Palestinian armed group Hamas to free the at least 200 people taken captive during their surprise October 7 attack, which Israeli authorities say killed more than 1,200 people.
Israel’s response – weeks of relentless attacks on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which officials there say have killed more than 11,300 people – has exposed deep divisions in the US, Israel’s most staunch supporter.
At the top of the mall, the top Democrats in Congress – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jefferies – stood together on stage with Republicans Mike Johnson, the House of Representatives speaker, and Senator Joni Ernst from the central state of Iowa. They joined hands as Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the US, chanted, “We stand with Israel.”
But beneath the projection of unity, Democrats and the US itself are sharply divided over Israel’s course and its treatment of Palestinians.
The country has seen weeks of largely pro-Palestinian demonstrations amid growing calls for a ceasefire and President Joe Biden has toned down some of the full-throated solidarity with the Israelis from the war’s early weeks to urge more restraint.
Hamas a target
A succession of speakers took the stage to condemn the Hamas attack and what they said was the virulent spread of anti-Semitism internationally.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed the crowd via video from the Western Wall in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem. After “the largest massacre since the Holocaust,” he said, “let us call out together, never again.
“No one will break us,” he pledged. “We will rise again … There is no greater and just cause than this.”
Rachel Goldberg, whose 23-year-old son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was snatched by Hamas after the group attacked a music festival, also addressed the crowd, noting those taken captive ranged in age from just nine months to 87 years and were of different religions and nationalities.
“Our hearts are bruised and seeping with misery,” she said. “Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen?”
Many of the demonstrators wore Israeli flags wrapped around their shoulders or held small Israeli flags in their hands turning their anger on Hamas.
Banners and placards showed the names and photos of people being held captive in Gaza, with the crowd shouting, “Bring them home!”
Other signs read “Annihilate Hamas” and “From the river to the sea, we support democracy.”
Security was tight, with trucks blocking access to the mall and police keeping a close watch on the area.
Melanie Lubin of Olney, Maryland, wore a flag that combined the Stars and Stripes with Israel’s blue and white Star of David.
Asked about the death toll in Gaza and criticism of the way Israel has conducted its military campaign, she said: “I think everyone is concerned about what is happening in Gaza and to civilians in Israel. Israel is doing its best. This is a war. Israel did not start this war.”
Mark Moore, a 48-year-old Christian pastor from Chicago, said he considered Israel “the only bastion of freedom” in the Middle East.
“I’m praying for peace… secured through victory so it does not continue with this endless cycle of violence,” he said.