Tens of thousands rally for Israel in Washington

Demonstrators gather in Washington in support of Israel and to denounce anti-Semitism (Stefani Reynolds)
Demonstrators gather in Washington in support of Israel and to denounce anti-Semitism (Stefani Reynolds)

Tens of thousands packed a rally in Washington on Tuesday to support Israel and to condemn anti-Semitism in a riposte to weeks of largely pro-Palestinian demonstrations across a deeply divided United States.

With senior members of Congress addressing the event on the National Mall, near the Capitol, the crowd rapidly swelled with people wearing the white and blue colors of Israel.

Many were waving placards calling on Palestinian militant group Hamas to free hostages taken during their surprise October 7 attack on Israel, which authorities there 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, thousands of them children -- has stirred fierce controversy in the United States.

Rachel Goldberg, the mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, one of the 240 people believed taken hostage by Hamas on October 7, told the crowd that the families "have third degree burns on our souls."

"Our hearts are bruised and seeping with misery. Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen?" she said.

Mark Moore, 48, a Christian pastor from Chicago, said he considers 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.

- Heavy police presence -

The demonstration, dubbed the March for Israel, centered on combating anti-Semitism and calling for the release of the hostages, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, one of the organizers.

Speaking by video link from Jerusalem, Israeli President Isaac Herzog told the crowd they were "marching for the right of every Jew to live proudly and safely in Israel and the US and the world."

"No one will break us," he said.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer -- a Democrat -- and House Speaker Mike Johnson -- a Republican -- also spoke, as well as family members of the hostages.

"America feels your pain," Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States.

The demonstration comes after multiple large protests around the country -- and in cities around the world -- calling for a ceasefire and criticizing the Israeli military.

Security was tight, reflecting the wider tensions.

Police stationed snowplows as temporary roadblocks nearby and a military style armored vehicle was also deployed. Protesters' bags were searched before being allowed to enter the area.

In contrast to pro-Palestinian demonstrations from New York to Los Angeles that have focused on the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Tuesday's crowd turned its anger on Hamas.

Signs included "Annihilate Hamas" and "From the river to the sea, we support democracy."

Rally goer Sergei Kravchic told AFP: "We of course support Israel.... We're doing exactly what we have to do."

Kravchick, 64, said he was "proud" to see the large turnout.

Less than two weeks ago, a major pro-Palestinian demonstration took place in Washington, with a large crowd marching up to the fence around the White House, protesting against President Joe Biden's staunch support for Israeli military policies.