Jewish leaders in the greater Washington community anticipate that momentum will continue building following the massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, and the first hostage releases under an Israel-Hamas agreement.
There will be more efforts and events to come that will focus on the tragedy of the Hamas attacks, the need to free all the hostages and the danger of antisemitism, they said.
“There’s a lot of things we can still be doing,” said Meredith Weisel, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League office covering Maryland, D.C., Virginia and North Carolina. “There are more than 200 hostages that we’re aware of that are still being held in Gaza by Hamas. We need to continuously speak up and make sure that those people are not forgotten. We need to feel for the loss of innocent life, whether it is Palestinian or Israeli, but we need to also be outspoken and peacefully protest concerning who started this and that it was a terrorist organization.”
“Our work as American Jews is far from over,” said Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “There are several ways that we can act right now.”
First, there’s reaching out to elected officials, Preuss said. “It’s critical that we remind American lawmakers that rescuing every single hostage is a top U.S. priority. Lawmakers also need to hear from the Jewish community about our concerns regarding the drastic rise in antisemitism since the Hamas attack. We need to urge them to stand up for Israel and against antisemitism.”
Since the Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, the ADL has recorded a significant spike in antisemitic incidents – 315 percent over the same time period a year ago.
Weisel called the average 25 incidents of antisemitism per day “alarming.”
“Unfortunately, as we have seen repeatedly, when conflict arises in the Middle East, particularly when Israel exercises its right to self-defense, antisemitic incidents increase here in the U.S. and around the world,” she said. “I am worried because we see so many voices still justifying, excusing and even celebrating Hamas’ actions.”
Weisel stressed the importance of responsible members of the local, national and international community to “take concrete actions both in support of Israel and against those who support the Hamas terrorists. My heart breaks at the loss of innocent life in both Israel and Gaza, and the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But we must hold Hamas accountable for deliberately putting innocent Palestinians in harm’s way. This is a moment for all of us of good conscience to stand together, to stand up to the hatred we’re seeing.”
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said momentum remains strong for community support for Israel. “We’re planning strategically to maintain political support for Israel. We’re taking advantage of the fact that we’re uniquely situated in Washington, and we have a very large and effective JCRC. We are in a position to work on behalf of freeing the Israeli hostages, rejecting antisemitism and standing up for Israel in political and public relations efforts.”
“The march was a shot of adrenalin and a morale booster for the Jewish community,” Halber said. “It was a chance for everybody to get together and hug each other, as opposed to just sitting at home and watching this horrific media coverage against Israel.”
The community needs to be disputing the disinformation and misinformation that is out there about what is actually happening, Weisel said. “We can certainly acknowledge the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But the responsibility lies with a terrorist organization. That is the place we need to all start from.”
Pro-Palestinian messages over the Israeli government’s military operations against Hamas are often antisemitic, Weisel said. “It is certainly possible to criticize Israel without being antisemitic. However, we have unfortunately seen many messages of anti-Israel rhetoric bleed into antisemitism. Such statements utilize anti-Jewish tropes, hold all Jews responsible for Israel’s actions or promote traditional antisemitic images or draw comparisons to Nazis.”
At a recent anti-Israel rally at the University of Maryland in College Park, “we saw things chalked like “Holocaust 2.0,” Weisel said. “It’s a distortion of the Holocaust in the way they believe that there’s another Holocaust happening in Gaza. Or it could have been a direct threat against Jewish individuals saying we want another Holocaust to happen to the Jewish people. Either way it’s unacceptable graffiti.”
Anti-Zionist statements are antisemitic and distinct from criticism of the policies and actions of the Israeli government, Weisel said, “because it attacks the foundational legitimacy of the Jewish self-determination and statehood. Also, signage or support for terrorism against Israel is very clearly antisemitic.”
Unity Shabbat is being encouraged by ADL and other sponsoring Jewish organizations. “We’re encouraging people to light an extra pair of candles on Shabbat for many in Israel who still have empty tables and empty beds,” Weisel said. “We are asking people to pray for peace and the safety and security of all loved ones.”
Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.