Activism / November 15, 2023

The March for Israel Was a Hate Rally

What kind of gathering against antisemitism invites antisemites?

Dave Zirin
Pro-israel rally in washington, D.C. november 2023

President of Israel Isaac Herzog speaks on video during the March For Israel at the National Mall on November 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

(Noam Galai / Getty)

Washington, D.C.—“Final estimated headcount at the pro-Israel rally in DC: 290,000 people. Makes this the largest Jewish gathering in history since Mount Sinai.” So chortled Trump’s former ambassador to Israel David Friedman about the March for Israel gathering held Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Although Friedman’s numbers appear to be inflated, I saw a massive turnout. It was a political event like nothing I’ve seen in two decades of covering rallies in this town. In the incessant calls to keep bombing Gaza, it was a celebration not just of war but of war crimes. Friedman’s joy over such a showing is not surprising. What turned the stomach was watching the leadership of the Democratic Party—Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries—join in the revelry just hours before Israel Defense Forces captured Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital, and it came amid another round of killing civilians and targeting journalists trying to show these horrors to the world.

When it comes to supporting the Israeli government, it’s not a shock to see Democratic Party leaders in lockstep with Trumpists like Friedman and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, whose hand they held on stage in honor of Israel. It’s not just that the Democratic leaders said nothing about the evangelical Christian speakers with histories so antisemitic that they would give Donald Trump pause. (Make no mistake: People in the anti-Jewish Christian Zionist community made up a significant portion of the crowd.) Or that they failed to remark on the racist handmade signs attendees created for the occasion. It’s that their presence was a slap in the face to the 80 percent of Democratic voters who want a cease-fire. It’s that they are openly hostile to the generation of youth whose support they need to stay in office—a generation that inconveniently believes that Palestinian lives matter. It’s that they are contemptuous of Jews like me who say to Israel that their genocidal attacks must not be pursued in our name. It’s that they are in the process of handing the next election to a fascist antisemite who, in the words of The Washington Post, is echoing Hitler by calling their opponents “vermin.”

Schumer and Jeffries would rather stand with a pro-war mob that shouted down an over-his-head Van Jones calling for peace. Speaker after speaker slammed the idea of a cease-fire and slandered the cease-fire protests as “pro Hamas.” C-list celebrities like Debra Messing and Michael Rapaport backed a message whose only logic is bigotry and bombings. But the coup de grâce was when they cheered a video speech by Israeli President Isaac Herzog who has said that civilians in Gaza are legitimate targets, that “it is an entire nation out there that is responsible.” This was not just a rally supporting a war. This was a rally supporting a war crime.

The defenders of yesterday’s shanda will say that it was a mass gathering “against antisemitism.” But what kind of rally against “antisemitism” features John Hagee, the Christian Zionist evangelical leader who has said Hitler was brought by God on a divine mission to “create” the state of Israel? You bring Hagee out of his crypt only to send a message that this is not about making sure that Jews are safe. It’s about showing solidarity with Israel, no matter the allies.

What kind of rally against antisemitism includes racist signs calling for more war, more bombings, and the end of not just Hamas but Palestine itself? Or as one sign held by a masked protester read, “From the river to the sea, Israel is all you will see.”

This is not to say that every single person in attendance was there to celebrate war. The reports of increasing antisemitism have many people understandably concerned. But the messaging was far less about antisemitism than about “finishing the job” in Gaza.

The march was also not a call to “free the hostages.” Instead, it elevated bigots, trolls, and an Israeli president who has made an open call for genocide. At one point, on Herzog’s urging, the crowd stopped chanting against a cease-fire and instead shouted “never again.” This was a vandalizing of those sacred words. “Never again”—as I was raised—is supposed to mean that never again would Jews remain quiet when anyone on this planet faced genocide. But for Herzog, it means that for the horrid crime of October 7, Israel must declare a total war against the people of Gaza. For Herzog, there are no innocents in Gaza. To chant “never again” in the comfort of sunny D.C. while a trapped ghetto is bombed half a world away in our name shames this rally. Friedman may be thrilled, but Democrats sacrificing their party’s presidential hopes on the altar of a war crime deserve nothing but contempt. If young people don’t turn out to vote, remember this rally, and remember how Schumer and Jeffries locked arms with Johnson, looked at 80 percent of their voters, and spit in their faces.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in attendance at the rally.

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Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports. He is also the coproducer and writer of the new documentary Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL.

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