WASHINGTON OSV News – An estimated tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall Nov. 14 in a show of solidarity for Israel in the wake of the terrorist group Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks on that country and a protest of antisemitism around the globe. Protesters also demanded the release of hostages abducted by Hamas.
Although there was no official head count for the rally, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, The Washington Post reported that a permit was issued by the National Park Service to organizers for 100,000 people. The event's organizers later said the crowd number reached at least 290,000.
The event prompted enhanced security measures in the nation's capital. It was designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a "Level 1" security event, the agency'’s highest rating of risk assessment. That level is often given to high-profile events such as the Super Bowl and World Series, but is unprecedented for such protests, according to multiple reports.
Although security officials did not tie a specific credible threat to the event, the advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League has tracked a spike in instances of antisemitism in the wake of Hamas' attack on Israel, prompting concern.
A bipartisan and bicameral delegation of congressional leadership spoke at the event, while lawmakers from the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, including longtime Catholic Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., led the rally in prayer.
"We pray before you, oh God of redemption, fulfilling the words of this Genesis quote: Here I am with you. I will watch over you wherever you go. And we'll bring you back to this land. Indeed, I will not leave you until I have done what I said to you," Smith said in his comments.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told the crowd, "We are here united, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate, to say we stand with Israel."
Noting he is the "highest ranking Jewish elected official in American history," Schumer said he felt he "not only had a desire to go to Israel, I felt a special obligation to go" in the aftermath of the attack
"When I got off the plane, Israel was still shaken from what happened," he said of the trip he made with a congregational delegation on Oct. 14-15. "I said to the Israeli people, 'Israel, we in America have your back. America feels your pain. We ache with you. We stand with you. And we will not rest until you get all the assistance you need.'"
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., said, "There are a few issues in Washington that could so easily bring together leaders of both parties in both chambers, but the survival of the State of Israel and her people unites us together and unites all Americans."
"Let me be very clear, the United States stands unequivocally with our neighbor, our friend, our ally Israel," he said, calling them "neighbors in a global sense."
Johnson characterized calls for a ceasefire as "outrageous," arguing, "Israel will cease their counter-offensive when Hamas ceases to be a threat to the Jewish state."
Deborah Lipstadt, President Joe Biden's special envoy for combating antisemitism, cited George Washington's 1790 letter "To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island," in which the first president pledged to Jewish Americans that they were welcome in the new United States. The letter is historically notable, as it pledged more than the religious tolerance some other nations adopted, but advocated for true equality for a minority religious sect.
Over 230 years ago, "President George Washington reassured the Jews of Newport that our new nation would give bigotry no sanction, and persecution no assistance," she said. "His meaning and his message were quite specific: In the United States of America, the bigotry of antisemitism must have no place, no quarter, no haven, no home."
Antisemitism, Lipstadt said, "or more explicitly, Jew-hatred, the world's longest oldest form of prejudice, has pierced and permeated too many countries, too many cultures, communities," and can be found in "all political, religious and cultural" directions in the United States.
"Groups that agree on nothing else agree on their suspicion and hatred," she said. "And if we needed any reminder about the validity of that claim, the past five weeks made it plain."
She called on Americans to "echo our founding father unequivocally and unreservedly" and pledge that "today in America we give antisemitism no sanction, no foothold, no tolerance, not on campus, not in grade school, not in our neighborhoods, not in our streets of the streets of our cities. Not in our government. Nowhere, not now, not ever."
Anila Ali, a Pakistani-American Muslim and women's rights activist, told marchers that "Muslims and Jews are not destined to be enemies."
"We are stronger together, we are blessed together, we are all the connected children of Ibrahim, peace be upon him," she said. "And now, today, we are called upon to fulfill that historic destiny together. This is a dark time but this is also a historic moment. We will emerge stronger, and more united than ever before. And together we will have a lasting peace."
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the State of Israel wrote, "Thank you to each and every one of our Jewish and non-Jewish brothers, sisters and allies."
"Your support during this difficult time means everything to us and we feel your love always, but especially today," it said.
Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.