WASHINGTON (AP) — Supporters of Israel rallied by the tens of thousands on the National Mall under heavy security Tuesday, voicing solidarity in the fight against Hamas and crying “never again.”
The “March for Israel” offered a resounding and bipartisan endorsement of one of America’s closest allies as criticism has intensified over Israel’s offensive in Gaza, set off by the bloody Hamas incursion on Oct. 7.
Overlooking a sea of Israeli and U.S. flags, the top Democrats in Congress — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jefferies — came together on the stage with Republicans Mike Johnson, the House speaker, and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. They joined hands as Schumer chanted, “We stand with Israel.”
Yet underneath that projection of unity, Democrats are sharply divided over Israel’s course and its treatment of Palestinians. President Joe Biden now is urging Israel to restrain some of its tactics to ease civilian suffering in Gaza after voicing full-throated solidarity with the Israelis in the war’s early weeks.
A succession of speakers took the stage to denounce the Hamas attack and what they said was a virulent spread of antisemitism internationally, “an embarrassment to all civilized people and nations,” in the words of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who addressed the crowd by video from the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
After “the largest massacre since the Holocaust,” he said, “let us call out together, never again.”
“No one will break us,” he vowed. “We will rise again. … There is no greater and just cause than this.”
Ernst said Hamas’ brutality cannot be overstated. “They murder babies,” she said. “They rape women. They abuse the elderly. How anyone in America could sympathize with these terrorists is unfathomable.”
Hamas militants stormed into Israel from Gaza in the surprise incursion Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages. Israel has responded with weeks of attacks in Gaza, which have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who was taken hostage while attending a music festival attacked by Hamas, said the days since the attack have been “slow motion torment.”
“These children of God range in age from 9 months to 87 years,” Goldberg said of the hostages taken to Gaza. “They are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindu. Why are they being left underground in the dirt?”
The Homeland Security Department designated the march a “level 1” security event, the highest classification in its system and one usually used for the Super Bowl and other major events, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. The designation means the event required substantial law enforcement assistance from federal agencies, the officials said.
The FBI and Homeland Security sent a joint bulletin to law enforcement officials in Washington warning about the potential for violence or an attack inspired by the Israel-Hamas war, the officials said. But the bulletin said clearly that federal officials haven’t identified any “specific, actionable threat” to the march, they said.
The officials were not authorized to discuss details of the law enforcement bulletin publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Many of the demonstrators wore Israeli flags wrapped around their shoulders, flowing behind them, or held small Israeli flags in their hands. They also held placards with names and photos of the people who had been taken hostage in Gaza, often holding them up as the crowd shouted, “Bring them home!” Security was tight, with dump trucks blocking access to the mall and police dispersed throughout the area and on horseback.
“I hope that it shows solidarity” with Israel, said Jackie Seley of Rockville, Maryland, who came with friends from New York. “And I hope that it raises awareness for the hostages that are currently in danger.”
Melanie Lubin of Olney, Maryland, wore a flag half made up with the Stars and Stripes and half 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.”
At one point during the rally, organizers played a video with Jewish students talking about antisemitism, reflecting how the conflict is playing out on college campuses.
Noa Fay, a Columbia University student, said many of her peers were feeling helpless about antisemitism they were seeing on campus, but she vowed not to be silenced.
“I will continue to shout,” she said. “We should not have to do this. But we can do this, we must do this.”