Arizonans join thousands at rally to support Israel, decry antisemitism

Many of the tens of thousands at Tuesday’s rally in support of Israel carried posters showing Israelis who were kidnapped by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel and who are still being held. (Photo by Lux Butler/Cronkite News)

Tens of thousands showed up for Tuesday’s rally in support of Israel, with the crowd stretching for several blocks along the National Mall, just blocks from the Capitol. (Photo by Lux Butler/Cronkite News)

Despite the tense backdrop, and heightened security for the event, the mood at Tuesday’s Americans March for Israel rally was generally upbeat and peaceful, with the crowd singing and chanting, often arm-in-arm. (Photo by Lux Butler/Cronkite News)

Eddie Calderon, in blue cap, said he flew in from Arizona on Tuesday so that he could be part of the Americans March for Israel rally. He was one of several people in the crowd who said they were from Arizona. (Photo by Lux Butler/Cronkite News)

The Americans March for Israel rally on the National Mall drew supporters from across the country who came to Washington to call for Hamas to release its hostages and to fight back against rising antisemitism. (Photo by Lux Butler/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Former Perry High School student Tomer Ben-Ezer said he has not always felt comfortable living in Washington, but that was not the case Tuesday as he looked around at the crowds and the Israeli and U.S. flags filling the National Mall.

“There’s going to be hate, of course, there’s going to be antisemitism, but as long as we are together, we’re going to be stronger,” said Ben-Ezer, an Israeli flag draped around his shoulders.

He was one of several Arizonans who joined thousands in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol for the Americans March for Israel. The event, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, comes in the wake of more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

More than 1,200 Israelis, many of them civilians, were killed in a surprise Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants in Gaza. Roughly 230 hostages were also taken in that raid, most of whom are still unaccounted for.

Related story

A call for release of the hostages, including some U.S. citizens, was one of the main rallying cries of Tuesday’s event. That was echoed by Jon Kasle, who came from his home in Tucson to show his support at the rally.

“We’re here, first and foremost, for the hostages. So that they’re released, so that some humanity is shown to people who are now suffering untold types of experiences,” Kasle said.

The Israeli military has responded to the Oct. 7 attack by heavily bombarding Gaza in the weeks since, in what it called an effort to destroy Hamas. More than 11,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the fighting, leading to protests across the U.S. as well as demands for a cease-fire from some groups, including some members of Congress.

On Oct. 18, hundreds of demonstrators, many wearing “Jews say cease-fire now” shirts, showed up at the Capitol demanding a cease-fire. On Tuesday, a small group of counter-protesters who identified themselves as rabbis also called for an end to hostilities.

Along with the tensions has come a rise in reported hate crimes against both Jews and Muslims. Since the war in Gaza began, the Anti-Defamation League said it has seen a 316% increase in antisemitic incidents compared to the same time last year, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported a 216% rise in anti-Arab attacks.

Ben-Ezer said he has seen it firsthand, saying posters he put up for a recent recital were defaced Friday with an antisemitic death threat. He said he feels “fearful of showing my actual political views, or showing where I’m from, what I believe in or my origins.”

(Video by Renee Romo/Cronkite News)

“It’s kind of funny because it’s the capital of the United States and I thought it was going to be very diverse, politically and nationality-wise, but apparently I was wrong,” Ben-Ezer said.

Despite the tense backdrop, and heightened security, the mood at Tuesday’s rally was largely upbeat and peaceful.

The densely packed crowd stretched for blocks between the Capitol and the Washington Monument along the National Mall, holding hands while they sang, prayed and chanted, often in Hebrew. Under a clear and sunny sky, speakers – including family members of some hostages – fired up the crowd and congressional leaders took the stage to reaffirm their support for Israel.

Tuesday’s pro-Israel rally was not the first Washington demonstration over the Israel-Hamas war. Hundreds of Palestinian supporters marched last month to protest Israeli bombing. (Photo by Lux Butler/Cronkite News)

The rally came as Congress is debating a White House request for $14.5 billion in emergency aid for Israel.

The House passed a stand-alone bill earlier this month to provide the aid – but pay for it with a $14.5 billion reduction in the IRS budget, which both the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House oppose.

Democrats have proposed including Israel aid, along with funding for Ukraine and border security, on a short-term budget extension that must pass by Friday to keep the government open. But the House late Tuesday passed a Republican budget plan that does not include the funds.

Arizona resident said he Eddie Calderon flew to Washington early Tuesday so he could be part of the rally. He preferred to focus on the positive atmosphere of the event.

“You know every single Jew here loves each other,” Calderon said with a smile.

Lux Butler luks BUT-ler (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Lux Butler expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a certificate in international studies. Butler is assigned to the Washington bureau of Cronkite News this semester.

Renee Romo(she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Renee Romo plans to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Romo is a White House Correspondents’ Association Scholar, who has interned with Arizona Education News Service. Romo also writes for PolitiFact.