Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of Israel gather on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to denounce antisemitism and call for the release of hostages held captive by Hamas.
A large crowd denouncing antisemitism and demanding Hamas’ release of Israeli hostages filled the National Mall and continued for blocks during the “March for Israel” Tuesday in Washington, DC.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed the crowd through a live video feed. Despite the thousands of miles separating them, Herzog said they are united “to march for the babies, the boys and girls, women and men viciously held hostage by Hamas; to march for the right of every Jew to live proudly and safely in America, in Israel and all around the world.”
The event is believed to be the largest pro-Israel gathering in the US since Hamas militants inflicted widespread carnage in Israel on October 7, slaughtering children and kidnapping soldiers and civilians alike.
Sara Blau, a student at the University of Maryland, said she went to high school with Israeli soldier Omer Neutra – who was kidnapped by Hamas.
“We were very good friends,” said Blau, who attended the march wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Neutra’s photo. “Everyone loves him. He’s funny. He’s kind, charismatic. He’s a natural-born leader and everyone’s being impacted really heavily by this.”
Blau said she wanted to join the march “to show my support for Israel. I’m a proud Zionist, a proud Jew and I wanted to be here to support my community.”
The Department of Homeland Security has deemed the march a “Level 1” security event – the highest possible level – when considering national importance, potential threats and the resources needed to ensure public safety, law enforcement sources said.
Such intense security is unprecedented for a march or protest in Washington, said Donell Harvin, a former DC chief of homeland security and intelligence.
“There has never been a First Amendment event in DC that has been designated as a … Level 1 event,” Harvin told CNN. “Those designations are reserved for high-profile events such as the Super Bowl, and World Series.”
The Level 1 designation allows the federal government to fill possible gaps in local security, including explosive detection, cyber risk assessments and venue screening. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said the National Guard will be on site to assist local police.
Streets surrounding the National Mall have been blocked by military vehicles, police cars and city dump trucks.
So far, there have been no credible threats or counterdemonstrations identified for Tuesday’s march, according to a US Capitol Police intelligence assessment obtained by CNN.
But a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson urged the public to stay vigilant.
“The U.S. remains in a heightened threat environment and recent events reinforce that,” the spokesperson told CNN in an email.
“As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, we have seen an increase in reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions,” the DHS official said. “Lone offenders, motivated by a range of violent ideologies, pose the most likely threat. We urge the public to stay vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity to their local law enforcement.”
The March for Israel started at 1 p.m. ET and is scheduled to end at 3 p.m. ET. Organizers include the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
American support for Israel is critical, said Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“On October 7th, merciless Hamas terrorists launched the deadliest attack on Israel in its 75-year history, brutally murdering the most Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust,” Fingerhut said in a statement.
“Israel must eliminate the terrorist threat on its border and restore safety and security to its people,” Fingerhut added. “As patriotic Americans, we will gather on the National Mall to ensure that the entire world knows that America supports the people of Israel in its time of need, that America demands the release of the remaining hostages, and that America categorically rejects antisemitism and hate in every form.”
Hamas launched a coordinated attack on Israel from Gaza on October 7, killing an estimated 1,200 people, including children, and kidnapping about 200 hostages. The massacre in Israel coincided with rising reports of antisemitism in the US and other countries.
Israel retaliated by launching airstrikes on Gaza targeting Hamas, which often uses civilians as human shields. But the bombardment has also killed Palestinian civilians.
More than 11,000 people have been killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, drawing from sources in Hamas-controlled Gaza. A UNICEF spokesperson says the organization’s figures have historically matched those of the of the Hamas-controlled health ministry.
Tuesday’s march comes as other protests have denounced Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza, which have destroyed homes and schools and severed access to life-saving care. Some Jewish activists are among those calling for a ceasefire to prevent more civilian deaths.
Just blocks away from the site of Tuesday’s march, throngs of demonstrators recently gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington to support Palestinian civilians and demand a ceasefire. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have been arrested at similar events near the Capitol.
While many have called for a humanitarian pause in fighting so Palestinian civilians can be moved to safety, Israel has firmly rejected the notion as long as Hamas keeps holding hostages. But Israel has agreed to four-hour, daily pauses in military operations in Gaza to allow for evacuations.