‘Let our people go’: Nearly 300,000 rally in Washington for Israel, hostages’ release
Largest pro-Israel event in US history is held under tight security; Herzog: 'Never Again is now'; US congressional leaders slam pro-Palestinian protesters for ‘echoing Hamas’s cry'
Nearly 300,000 people rallied in Washington on Tuesday at the March for Israel, calling for the release of the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza and invoking the Holocaust while condemning Hamas’s October 7 onslaught with a cry of “Never Again.”
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO William Daroff said over 290,000 people attended the event, making it the largest pro-Israel gathering in US history.
Buses and flights to the US capital were organized by local Jewish federations, schools, synagogues, Israeli expatriate groups and Jewish community centers, while many more made their own way to the March for Israel.
President Isaac Herzog addressed the rally by video link from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, demanding the return of the hostages held in Gaza, and declaring that “Never Again is now.”
“Today we come together, as a family, one big mishpacha, to march for Israel. To march for the babies, the boys and girls, women and men viciously held hostage by Hamas,” Herzog said.
“To march for the right of every Jew to live proudly and safely in America, in Israel and around the world. Above all, we come together to march for good over evil, for human morality over blood thirst. We march for light over darkness,” he said.
“Eighty years ago, Jews came out of Auschwitz and vowed ‘Never Again.’ As the blue and white flag was hoisted over our ancient homeland, we vowed ‘Never Again.’ Forty days ago, a terrorist army invaded the sovereign State of Israel and butchered hundreds upon hundreds of Israelis in the largest massacre since the Holocaust. Let us cry out, together: Never Again. Never Again is now,” he said.
Herzog also praised US President Joe Biden for the “moral clarity and bold actions of our American allies.”
“Once again in Jewish history, we demand: Let our people go. Whilst our loved ones are held captive in Gaza, and our soldiers are fighting for our beloved Israel – Jews all over the world are assaulted for being Jewish. The hatred, the lies, the brutality, the disgraceful outburst of ancient antisemitism are an embarrassment to all civilized people and nations.”
“Jews in America must be safe. Jews all over the world must be safe,” Herzog said.
In one of the most warmly received speeches, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries listed a history of persecution of the Jewish people through the ages, explaining that it anchored “the moral case for Israel,” and noting, “The Jewish people were violently expelled from the Middle East. The Jewish people were systematically murdered by the Nazi regime. The Jewish people were violently attacked by Hamas on October 7th, resulting in the largest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust. So we are here, more than 100,000 strong, to unequivocally declare, Never Again. Never Again. Never Again. The State of Israel must always exist as a safe haven for the Jewish people.”
He went on: “And so we stand together with the Jewish community in Israel, we stand together with the Jewish community in America, we stand together with the Jewish community all throughout the world. We stand together in the effort to crush antisemitism. We stand together in the effort to crush anti-Jewish hate. We stand together in the effort to bring home the hostages. We stand together in the effort to make sure that America will always be a safe space for the Jewish community in every single zip code.”
After weeks of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests with calls for a Palestinian state to be established “from the river to the sea,” a phrase also used by US House of Representatives Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the US congressional leadership slammed the chant, seen by many as a call for the elimination of Israel.
“When Hamas says from the river to the sea, they mean all the present-day Israel should be a Jewish-free land,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the crowd.
“We stand with you, and we will not rest until you get all the assistance you need,” Schumer said before leading the rally-goers in chants of “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Speaking after Schumer, US House Speaker Mike Johnson said: “We’ve heard many echoes of Hamas’s rallying cry, ‘From the river to the sea,’ and I’m convinced that a lot of these college students who are engaging in these protests do not understand that is an explicit call for the extermination of Israel.
“It is unacceptable for any political leader in this nation to give credence to this dangerous rhetoric,” he said.
Johnson also described the calls for a ceasefire as “outrageous.”
“Israel will cease their counter-offensive when Hamas ceases to be a threat to the Jewish state,” Johnson said, to cheers.
Israel has said there will not be a ceasefire without the release of the hostages, and that a ceasefire would merely aid Hamas and help it regroup and replenish its stocks. The US has supported Israel in its stance, but is instead promoting the use of humanitarian pauses for the entry of aid into the beleaguered Gaza Strip and to allow civilians to evacuate from the battle-zone northern part of the enclave, where Hamas has many of its strongholds.
The Biden administration’s antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt told the crowd that the US government “stands shoulder to shoulder against Jew hatred.”
“Today in America we give antisemitism no sanction, no foothold, no tolerance, not on campus, not in our schools, not in our neighborhoods, not in our streets or the streets of our cities. Not in our government. Nowhere. not now, not ever,” Lipstadt declared.
“When protesters chant ‘Peace and glory to the martyrs,’ that incites more hatred, more deaths,” she said.
“It is a danger to the values and underpinning of the stability and decency of any society anywhere in the world. Hate is not a zero-sum game, hate and violence directed at any member of our society because of who they are is un-American and wrong,” Lipstadt said.
The rally was also addressed by relatives of the some 240 hostages taken captive by Hamas and other terror groups as they rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, also killing some 1,200 people.
Rachel Goldberg, whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was seriously injured before he was taken hostage by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova desert rave, told the rally that the families of those kidnapped “have lived the last 39 days in slow-motion torment.”
“We all have third-degree burns on our souls,” she said.
“But the real souls suffering are those of the hostages and they want to ask everyone in the world, why? Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen and buried alive,” she said, referring to the fact that many of the hostages are believed to be held underground in the Hamas terror group’s labyrinth of tunnels underneath the Gaza Strip.
“These children of God range in age from 9 months to 87 years. They are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus,” she said.
Describing a Christian who saved Jews during the Holocaust, she said, “What the world needs to start thinking about today is what will your excuse be?”
“Bring them home now,” Goldberg concluded.
Orna Neutra, mother of hostage Omer Neutra, described her son as “a big guy, six foot two, always with a smile on his face.”
She said the dual US-Israeli citizen is crazy about sports, and was raised with a love and a passion for both of his homelands.
“From a place of deep pain, we hold strong for you, Omer. We speak in your name, tirelessly… Omer you’re not just my beloved son, you touch so many in deep and profound ways,” she said.
Alana Zeitchik, whose six cousins were taken from Kibbutz Nir Oz, said that for too many in the West, the suffering of families “has become a footnote.”
“To demand the release of the hostages is not an act of politics, nor is it an act of war,” she said.
In a fiery speech, Columbia University student Noa Fay described how over 100 professors have advocated for the destruction of Israel on her campus.
“I am a Black, Native American Jewish American woman and I will not be silenced…. I will continue to shout,” said Fay.
“We are the Jews of the Diaspora, this is how we fight. We fight loudly and we fight peacefully. We are far from helpless, we are far from hopeless,” she said.
However, not all the speakers at the rally were welcomed — progressive groups fumed over the decision to invite controversial evangelical Pastor John Hagee as a speaker, even though no Jewish clergy members were on the speakers’ list.
The Homeland Security Department designated the march a “Level 1” security event, the highest classification in its system and one usually used for the Super Bowl and other major events, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.
The designation meant the event required substantial law enforcement assistance from federal agencies, the officials said.
Police stationed snowplows as temporary roadblocks nearby and a military-style armored vehicle was deployed, while protesters’ bags were searched before being allowed to enter the area.
Many of the demonstrators wore Israeli flags wrapped around their shoulders, flowing behind them, or held small Israeli flags in their hands.
“I hope that it shows solidarity” with Israel, said Jackie Seley of Rockville, Maryland, who came with friends from New York. “And I hope that it raises awareness for the hostages that are currently in danger.”
Sergei Kravchick, 64, said he was “proud” to see the large turnout in Washington
“We of course support Israel… We’re doing exactly what we have to do,” he said.
Mark Moore, 48, a Christian pastor from Chicago, said he considers Israel “the only bastion of freedom” in the Middle East and that although he wanted peace ultimately, “I’m praying for peace… secured through victory so it does not continue with this endless cycle of violence.”
The demonstration, which was also seen by many as a message of gratitude to Biden for his strong support of Israel in its war against Hamas, came after multiple pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests in the US, as well as a sharp spike in antisemitism, particularly on college campuses.
Unable to make it to the rally was a delegation of 900 people organized by the Jewish Federation of Detroit that was left stranded at Washington’s Dulles Airport after their bus drivers refused to take them to a pro-Israel event, Daroff said.