Thousands of people attend the March for Israel on the National Mall November 14, 2023 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Members of both parties from both chambers of Congress spoke to tens of thousands of supporters of Israel in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, pledging to continue support for the U.S. ally’s war against Hamas even as concerns about the destruction in Gaza rise.
Many speakers, including family members of Israeli and Israeli American victims, at the two-hour rally on the National Mall related horrors that Hamas inflicted on Oct. 7. The terrorist attacks killed about 1,200 and the militant group took more than 200 hostages.
As Israel responds to that attack with a counteroffensive that has killed more than 11,000 in Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry, congressional leaders said the U.S. would remain committed to Israel.
“The United States has always stood with Israel,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, told the crowd. “And we will do everything to see that that never, ever changes.”
Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the country, pledged the enactment of a full aid package to Israel. The Biden administration proposed $14 billion in military and humanitarian assistance as part of a supplemental funding package.
“We will not rest until you get the assistance you need,” Schumer said.
Bipartisan commitment to Israel
Following Schumer, House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who is the fourth-highest ranking member of her caucus, spoke.
Jeffries praised the longstanding bipartisan commitment to Israel and said House Democrats supported Biden’s aid request.
Johnson said backing for Israel was one of the few issues that united members of Congress across the ideological spectrum.
But he also raised some points where disagreements do exist, saying that “calls for a cease-fire are outrageous.” Some progressive House Democrats and advocacy groups have suggested a cease-fire to halt casualties to noncombatants.
As Johnson rejected that idea Wednesday, the crowd cheered and began chanting, “No cease-fire.”
Johnson also dismissed the pro-Palestinian slogan “from the river to the sea,” which many interpret to be a call to eliminate the state of Israel. He said that he believed many college students who use the phrase likely don’t realize they are calling for the elimination of Israel.
But in an apparent reference to U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, Johnson said it was “unacceptable” for an elected official to promote the phrase.
“It is unacceptable for any political leader in this nation to give credence to this dangerous rhetoric,” he said.
The House censured Tlaib last week after she tweeted a video with that slogan and called it “an aspirational call for freedom” and peace. Tlaib is the only Palestinian American member of the House.
Ernst recounted meetings on her trip to Israel shortly after the attack, where she met with victims and family members who urged her to extend U.S. support.
“In every meeting, the message was abundantly clear: ‘Do not let the United States cower when the world starts to. Stand steadfastly in your solidarity,’” she said. “So we’re here today as Republicans and as Democrats to assure you, we will not shrink back and shudder in fear.”
Several speakers, including the lawmakers, also condemned domestic antisemitism, which they said has risen since the war started.
“There should not be a shred of antisemitism in our country,” Ernst said.
“In the halls of Congress and college campuses, this rise of antisemitism must be stopped,” Johnson said.
After the lawmakers’ appearance, several family members of hostages spoke, describing their experience in emotional terms.
“We hostage families have lived the last 39 days in slow-motion torment,” said Rachel Goldberg, whose son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was kidnapped from a music festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7. “We all have third-degree burns on our souls. Our hearts are bruised and seeping with misery.”
Pressure to reduce violence
The rally came as U.S. policymakers are seeing increasing calls to pressure Israel to reduce or end violence in the Gaza Strip, which is home to about 2 million people.
The social justice group Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestinian human rights organizations sued the U.S. government in federal court Monday, asking the court to block the Biden administration from providing more weapons and other support to Israel.
U.S. aid for Israel amounts to a breach of the nation’s “legal duty to prevent genocide,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
After initially strongly backing Israel, administration officials in recent weeks, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have been more open in calls for Israel to rein in civilian casualties.
At a press conference earlier Tuesday, Schumer said his three priorities for the Israel-Hamas war were to “radically reduce the presence of Hamas,” free hostages the group still holds and to minimize civilian casualties.
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