Hundreds arrested at Jewish US Capitol rally demanding Israeli ceasefire in Gaza

Organizers claim the protest by pro-Palestinian groups IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace drew 10,000; speakers included far-left Congress members Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush

Protesters hold a demonstration in support of a ceasefire in Gaza in the Cannon House Office Building on October 18, 2023, in Washington, DC.  (Photo by ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
Protesters hold a demonstration in support of a ceasefire in Gaza in the Cannon House Office Building on October 18, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo by ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

JTA — At least 300 people were arrested on Wednesday at a Jewish-led rally in the US Capitol calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and condemning Israel for a “potential genocide” of the territory.

The rally was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, two Jewish groups that have focused their criticism on Israel and accused it of genocide and other human rights violations since Hamas breached the border with Israel and embarked on a bloody massacre on October 7, killing 1,400, wounding thousands and taking some 200 people captive. Israel has since declared war on Hamas, killing 3,200 in airstrikes on Gaza and wounding thousands.

The Washington rally, which organizers said drew a total of 10,000 people inside and outside the Capitol, came on the same day that US President Joe Biden visited Israel in a show of support and negotiated humanitarian aid for Gaza civilians. Israel has called up hundreds of thousands of military reservists and is expected to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip shortly.

“We shut down congress to draw mass attention to the U.S. complicity in Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians,” JVP posted on X. “Just as we demand an end to genocide in Gaza, we must put the same effort into dismantling the systems of Zionism, apartheid, and colonialism that brought us to this moment.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who advocates for a boycott of Israel, spoke to the crowd outside the Capitol. During her comments, Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, cried when charging that “people think it’s OK to bomb a hospital.” It was an apparent allusion to an explosion at a Gaza hospital that Biden said he was convinced was caused by a Palestinian rocket misfire, backing up an Israeli assessment.

Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri also spoke at the rally, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts posted on X supporting it. Both are progressive Democrats allied with Tlaib.

The rally follows a smaller one on Monday in Washington, sponsored by the same groups, where protesters were also arrested for blocking the entrances to the White House. The rallies come amid a string of pro-Israel rallies in cities across the country that have collectively drawn tens of thousands of supporters. Miriam Weisel, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, said in a statement that “these far-left radical organizations do not represent the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community.”

Demonstrators are detained by US Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building for holding a rally to demand a cease-fire against Palestinians in Gaza on Capitol Hill on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Protesters, sitting on the floor, crowded the Capitol Rotunda, chanting “ceasefire now” and “not in our name,” and singing a famous Biblical verse that begins “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.” The protest was infused with Jewish ritual — a hallmark of protests by IfNotNow, which was founded in 2014 to oppose Israel’s conduct during that year’s Gaza War and which frequently partners with JVP, an anti-Zionist group.

Protesters wore prayer shawls and at least one brought a shofar. One speaker, leading a call-and-response with the crowd, recited a traditional Jewish message to mourners, inserting “Al-Quds,” the Arabic name for Jerusalem, before the Hebrew name for the city, Yerushalayim. IfNotNow protests have featured recitations of the Mourner’s Kaddish, said on behalf of Israeli and Palestinian victims.

The arrests occurred because protests are not allowed in the Capitol, according to CBS.

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