Thousands were gathering on the National Mall in Washington on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with Israel as it wages war in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
The rally, called the March for Israel, comes after large protests across the United States and in world capitals denouncing the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, which has been plunged into a humanitarian crisis.
The event is intended by organizers in part to be a response to critics of Israel, where about 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attack.
Eric Fingerhut, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, which is helping organize the march, said that despite polls showing that Americans “overwhelmingly” supported Israel in its battle against Hamas, “we were increasingly hearing from opposing voices who are on the fringe but who are very loud.”
The march was quickly arranged, and Jewish federations around the country, as well as schools, synagogues and community centers, sent buses of attendees. Shortly after the gates opened on Tuesday morning, the Mall was crowded with people waving American and Israeli flags and holding signs declaring support from Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia and other places around the country.
“It’s definitely a unity message,” said Tamara Wilkof, 71, who was among hundreds who had come to Washington on around two dozen buses from Cleveland. She said she believed people had been galvanized by the surge in antisemitism since the Oct. 7 attack; a fellow marcher mentioned that a Jewish cemetery in the Cleveland suburbs was vandalized with antisemitic graffiti last weekend.
Ms. Wilkof said demonstrating the solidarity of the Jewish community was an important signal to any politicians who may be wavering in their support for Israel. “This is saying: Don’t equivocate,” she said.
Educators, artists, students and relatives of some of the hundreds of hostages seized by Hamas are scheduled to appear, along with the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, and a host of U.S. lawmakers, including Speaker Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, and the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Most U.S. lawmakers have rejected calls for a cease-fire. They maintain that Israel’s military campaign — which the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,000 people — is justified by the imperative to eradicate Hamas.
While U.S. policy has been staunchly pro-Israel so far, there has been growing pushback in congressional offices and the Biden administration, as well as among Democratic voters generally, over how the war has been unfolding, and its toll on noncombatants, especially children.
Mr. Fingerhut said the march was intended in part to remind the politicians in Washington that “the majority of the American people” support Israel’s actions, even if they disagree on other issues. Jewish groups that have at times clashed over the right approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have announced plans to attend the march.
Mr. Fingerhut said the march was also meant to show unity in the face of reports of rising numbers of antisemitic incidents around the country in recent weeks, which he called “an attempt to intimidate the Jewish community and others who support Israel.”
For many of those on the Mall, even those who disagree with elements of Israeli policy, it is the wave of antisemitism here in the United States that prompted them to join the march.
“It can be a step in the right direction, a show of unity on the basics, even if down in the nitty-gritty there are some fundamental disagreements,” said Max Nozick, 27, who said he had noted a frightening spike in antisemitic incidents in his community in the Maryland suburbs.
Some of his Jewish friends were reluctant to come to the march because they did not support Israeli policy, and he, too, has concerns about the current government in Israel. But he said that denouncing the Oct. 7 attack — and anyone who endorses such violence — was not a complicated question.
“Oct. 7 specifically, I think we’re talking about terrorists,” said Mr. Nozick, who had a large Israeli flag draped across his back, like a cape. “I’m pretty comfortable picking a side there even if I don’t necessarily agree with all the policies of the country with the flag I’m wearing right now.”