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Thousands March for Israel
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Thousands March for Israel

‘This is our family. They’re our mishpacha. It runs through our veins.’

Thousands of people marched on the National Mall to support Israel and denounce antisemitism. (Photograph by Charlotte Lawson.)

WASHINGTON—Peaceful demonstrators gathered at the National Mall on Tuesday in an unprecedented display of support for Israel and Jewish communities across the globe. Some 40 days after Gazan terrorists killed an estimated 1,200 people, speakers addressing what is believed to be the largest pro-Israel rally in American history called for solidarity with the embattled country.

The March for Israel—organized by a coalition of Jewish groups across the country—came as Jewish people have had to contend with a rising global tide of antisemitism. The Anti-Defamation League reported Monday that 832 antisemitic incidents—including assault, vandalism, and harassment—took place in the U.S. alone in the month following Hamas’ attack in Israel, up from 200 during the same period last year. With yesterday’s rally, attendees were trying to send a message to perpetrators of such hate: We will not be cowed into silence.

“I want the rest of America to know that Jews are strong and are not going to back down,” David Sultan, a Jewish resident of Massachusetts and Harvard alumnus, told The Dispatch, expressing his concern about the antisemitism taking hold at his alma mater and on other college campuses across the country. “Part of being in higher education is understanding and looking at issues in a thorough way, and I haven’t seen that at all. It’s just very disheartening. I feel very bad for the Jewish kids on campus.”

That tension was present ahead of the gathering, which came 10 days after a large pro-Palestinian rally in Washington culminated in several acts of vandalism and antisemitic slogans being chanted by some attendees. In anticipation of possible violence at Tuesday’s rally, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday labeled it a “level one” security event, the highest such designation. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested assistance from the National Guard, which secured the area along with metropolitan police. Fencing and security checkpoints surrounded the perimeter of the mall.

But Tuesday came and went without any major security incidents, despite the isolated accounts of counter-protesters attempting to disrupt the gathering. Vandals reportedly spray painted a medical tent set up in advance of the event with slogans like “Gaza will win,” and “Palestine will be free,” and anti-Israel graffiti littered sidewalks and portable toilets in the area. There were also scattered reports of agitators at the event, including a man who was recorded saying “Heil Hitler” and “he should have finished y’all off.” 

For many rally participants, the safety concerns surrounding the demonstration underscored the painful reality now facing Jews across the country. “My own kids wouldn’t come, because it’s a scary time right now. There’s a lot of fear,” Michael Pereira, a Jewish resident of Maryland, told The Dispatch. “We live in a dangerous world—dangerous for people in Europe, dangerous for the United States. Demographically speaking, the future looks bleak.”

For non-Jewish attendees, the rally presented an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism. Sara Vasquez, a law student with the Christian student group Passages, attended Tuesday’s event in part because of what she’s seen at her New Jersey university. “It’s been a hostile time. The Jewish community feels afraid,” she said in an interview. “It pains my heart, but that’s why we’re here and why we’re pushing for more people to come and show support.”

“When you have people who are standing with Hamas, wearing the bandanas, calling for the extermination of the Jewish people … that shows that really what we’re up against is civilizational,” said Luke Moon, deputy director of the Philos Project, a Christian advocacy group.

For Jews, however, Tuesday’s rally felt almost existential. Being in attendance was “not a question, it’s a necessity,” said Yitzhak Elhadad, an Israeli man living in New Jersey. “There’s a consensus right now for everybody to be here—all Jews from all over the world, and non-Jews who care about humanity.”

People of all religions and ages populated the massive event, with many thousands waving Israeli flags and several donning the stars and stripes. Others carried the Iranian Lion and Sun flag, a symbol of pre-revolutionary Iran, in a show of opposition to the Islamic Republic. Several of the participants arrived in large groups coordinated by local synagogues and Jewish schools, busing and flying in from all across the country. A bipartisan group of congressional leaders spoke at the event, pausing regularly as chants of “USA!” and “bring them home!” erupted among the crowd.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history, led chants of “Never Again!” and vowed continued U.S. support to Israel. “History shows that when antisemitism rears its ugly head, if it’s not dealt with forcefully and directly, it grows into a deadly force,” he said. “My friends, history reminds us also of one thing: that even in its darkest days, the United States has always stood with Israel, and we will do everything to see that that never, ever changes.” 

The crowd also greeted newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, with huge applause. “The calls for a ceasefire are outrageous” he told the crowd. “We stand with you in that. Hamas terrorists waged the bloodiest assault on Jewish lives since the Holocaust, and there are hundreds of hostages—many of them Americans—still stuck inside Gaza. Israel will cease their counteroffensive when Hamas ceases to be a threat to the Jewish state.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries was in attendance, as were Democratic Sen. John Fetterman and Republican Sen. Rick Scott, along with  other lawmakers. Israeli musician Omer Adam sang the Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, along with a tearful audience. Many people carried the pictures of men, women, and children still held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. 

“We need to get those hostages out, back to their families,” said Jodi Josephson, a Jewish attendee from New Jersey. “This is our family. They’re our mishpacha. It runs through our veins, it does. We are one. We are peaceful people. We just want to be safe in our homes, out of our homes, in colleges. 

“American Jews, we are suffering right now,” she added. “We’re frightened.” 

For many of the rally’s Jewish attendees, the nationwide rise in antisemitism in the aftermath of Hamas’ attack has underscored the existential importance of the state of Israel. 

“We’re here defending our right to exist, to be our fullest in our self expression, to live in security in our own homes. That’s something that Americans would fight for, that’s something that Israelis are fighting for—this is what brings us together,” said Hannah Simpson, a transgender Jewish woman from New York City donning a pride flag emblazoned with the Star of David. “I find strength in the ancestors of mine who worked through the tears, the sweat, and far too often the blood to build things that would outlive themselves.”

Click here for more coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.

Charlotte Lawson is a reporter at The Dispatch and currently based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Prior to joining the company in 2020, she studied history and global security at the University of Virginia. When Charlotte is not keeping up with foreign policy and world affairs, she is probably trying to hone her photography skills.