Demonstrators gather in Washington in support of Israel and to denounce antisemitism – Copyright AFP Stefani Reynolds
Thousands streamed to 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 due to address the event on the National Mall, near the Capitol, the crowd rapidly swelled with people wearing the white and blue colors of Israel and waving placards calling on Palestinian militant group Hamas to free hostages.
Despite fierce controversy in the United States over the intensity of the Israeli military response to the October 7 surprise cross-border attack by Hamas, rally goer Sergei Kravchick, said, “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 in Washington, with tens of thousands of protesters expected.
The demonstration, set to start around 1:00 pm (1800 GMT), was centered on combating anti-Semitism and calling for the release of the 240 hostages held by Hamas, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, one of the organizers.
Hamas fighters stormed across the border from the Gaza Strip, killing around 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials.
Since then, the Israeli army has heavily bombarded Gaza and launched a ground invasion, killing more than 11,200 people, mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. The heaviest fighting has centered around Gaza hospitals.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog was set to deliver a video address to the rally, with US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — a Democrat — and House Speaker Mike Johnson — a Republican — also expected to speak.
Family members of the hostages were also expected to address the rally.
The demonstration comes after multiple protests around the country calling for a ceasefire and criticizing the Israeli military.
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.”
– Heavy police presence –
Security was tight, reflecting the tensions in US society over the war.
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.”
Thousands rally for Israel in Washington
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