Tens of thousands of Israel supporters gathered in Washington DC on Tuesday to show support for its war against Hamas, declare their opposition to a ceasefire and decry a global rise in antisemitism.
Massed ranks of demonstrators bearing placards and draped in Israeli flags gathered in the capital’s National Mall amid ultra-tight security and under clear blue skies in an event designed, at least partially, as a riposte to large recent US rallies demanding an immediate halt to Israel’s military offensive.
Speakers including the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, the former Soviet dissident and Jewish Agency executive chair Natan Sharnasky, and senior US congressional figures, led by the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, were warmly greeted as they pledged that Israel and its close ties with the United States would survive last month’s attack by Hamas, which Israel says killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw another 240 kidnapped.
Herzog, speaking by video link from Jerusalem, said Jews were being attacked for being Jews and called it “an embarrassment to all civilised people and nations”.
In a telling sign of the prevailing mood, the loudest cheers of the day were reserved for the recently installed Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, who told the crowd: “These calls for a ceasefire are outrageous.”
His comments were greeted by chants of: “No ceasefire!”
Many progressive groups in the US, including Jewish organisations like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now, have voiced demands for a ceasefire amid a rising backlash against Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which has killed 11,320 people, including 4,650 children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Many of those present acknowledged unease at the rising death toll in Gaza but said they pinned the blame squarely on Hamas.
Judah Klausner, a composer who had travelled from New York, cited a recent threat from Ghazi Hamad, a senior member of Hamas’s political bureau, to repeat the 7 October attacks a “second, third, fourth time” as a good reason for ruling out a ceasefire.
“That’s the logic facing Israel with a ceasefire with Hamas. One of their leaders has threatened to come back again and again. Israel right now is a crime scene – criminals don’t normally come back to the scene of a crime,” he said.
Paul Stewart, 67, a former engineer and retired attorney, who had travelled from Vermont, said: “I don’t think there should be a ceasefire because Israel has given the Palestinians options to leave, but obviously Hamas have some influence over them and are telling them to stay.”
Tuesday’s event was organised and attended by an ideological cross-section of broadly pro-Israel US Jewish groups, including some progressive outfits fiercely critical of the previous far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, including J Street and the Peace Now movement.
“Most of the Israeli left supports the war against Hamas so it can be eliminated and allow a return to the two-state solution. That’s the hope,” said Matthew Weinstein, 60, a public policy analyst from Salt Lake City and the head of the J Street chapter in Utah. “But Bibi [Netanyahu] has to go. He is as bad for Israel as Hamas is for the Palestinians. He has already said he’s against the two-state solution.”
Progressive elements voiced criticism over the decision to award a speaking slot to John Hagee, an evangelical pastor with a history of controversial remarks, including saying that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be the work of the anti-Christ.
Writing on X, Hadar Susskind condemned the decision to invite him. “I am horrified that he was given this platform. His history of hateful comments should disqualify him from decent company, much less from speaking on stage,” he tweeted.
The huge crowd – which the Democratic House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries estimated at 100,000 – included some Christian Zionists, among them Kim Smith, 85, who had travelled from Rondo, Virginia.
“We love the Jewish people and I’m so glad to help, until Jesus comes back – which won’t be long” he said, holding a large Israeli flag.
Jeffries issued a pointed rejoinder to progressives within his own Democratic conference, who have vocally advocated for Palestinian rights and demanded a ceasefire.
“Let me be clear: Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against Hamas terror,” he said, echoing the line of the Biden administration. “We must stand with Israel in its efforts to decisively defeat Hamas and make sure that this brutal terror organisation will never rise again.”
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