WASHINGTON (JTA) — National Jewish organizations are calling on Jews from around the country to travel to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14 for a mass pro-Israel rally they hope will rival major Jewish demonstrations in 2002 and 1987 in size and impact.
The March for Israel has three goals, according to Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, which is organizing the rally jointly with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Participants will be demanding the return of the estimated 240 hostages Hamas terrorists abducted during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Fingerhut said. They will also be calling for efforts to combat antisemitism, which has spiked worldwide since the attack. And they will be demonstrating their support for the unabashed backing Israel has so far received from both parties in Congress and the Biden administration.
“All three elements are important to all of our communities,” Fingerhut said. “We’re proud of what our government has done” to support Israel “but we want them to know how much support there is not only for what they’ve done, but also for the continued efforts that are going to be needed as this long conflict continues.”
The rally, which will take place just over five weeks after Hamas’ deadly assault on Israel, was formally announced on Monday night. But efforts to fill buses and planes were already breaking into public view over the weekend.
“All classes for Yeshiva University undergraduate schools and high schools for Tuesday November 14 are canceled,” Rabbi Ari Berman posted on social media on Sunday. “We are going to Washington to stand with Israel.”
It’s the kind of move that Fingerhut and William Daroff of the Conference of Presidents said in a joint interview they were asking of affiliated groups, including Jewish community centers, day schools and other Jewish organizations. So far, they said, the response has been enthusiastic.
Daroff said the hope was that the rally would have the impact of a 2002 pro-Israel rally during the Second Intifada and a 1987 mass rally to support Soviet Jewry, each of which drew more than 100,000 Jewish demonstrators to the National Mall.
“Just as the American Jewish community and our allies spoke out with mass events in 1987 in support of Soviet Jewry and in 2002 in support of Israel during the Second Intifada, we are now in a similar moment where the American Jewish community and the American people are speaking out loudly and clearly in support off the people of Israel and demanding the unconditional return of the hostages,” he said.
The Biden administration has so far backed Israel in its refusal to consider a ceasefire until the hostages are returned and Hamas is incapacitated. There have been calls from some on the progressive left for a ceasefire. Biden has asked Congress for $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel, including $10 billion in defense assistance.
Reports of antisemitic expression and assault have spiked since Oct. 7 on campuses and in cities across the world. On Monday, a man in Los Angeles died after a pro-Palestinian protester reportedly struck him in the head.
Biden wants Congress to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars to help secure vulnerable institutions; on Monday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish Democrat who is the majority leader, announced plans to up the annual funding for security grants to $1 billion, from $250 million.
Hamas terrorists killed 1,400 people, most of them civilians, wounded thousands and abducted more than 200 in their Oct. 7 raid. Since then, Israel has launched counterstrikes and more than 10,000 Gaza residents have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, among them 3,000 children. It is not known what portion of that number are civilians, and what portion have been killed by misfired rockets launched by Palestinian attackers.
The rally follows mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations in cities around the world, including in Washington on Saturday, and aims to show that Israel enjoys just as much support.
“We’ve all heard voices of hatred and antisemitism around the globe glorifying the October 7 attacks,” a flyer for the event says. “But these voices will never drown out this of Americans who stand against terror and with Israel.”
Daroff and Fingerhut said there were no confirmed speakers yet, although they had invited lawmakers and officials from the Biden administration at the highest level. They said that although their organizations were leading the effort, they were asking groups to put out the word in their own name about the rally, which will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. near the U.S. Capitol. (Hundreds of protesters affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group, were arrested there last month while calling for a ceasefire.) Some groups, including the Conservative movement, had already done so as of Monday.
Fingerhut and Daroff said they were encouraging Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools to shut down for the day and send their students to Washington. Some had already taken up the call: North Shore Hebrew Academy on Long Island, for example, said it would bus students to D.C. for the day, and the Detroit Jewish federation on Monday invited locals to reserve spots on a chartered flight.
Ronald Halber, the director of the Greater Washington D.C. Jewish Community relations Council, said he expected all 10 campuses in the D.C. area to empty their buildings on the day.
“We have an obligation with a 300,000-strong Jewish community to bring a substantial number of people,” Halber said.