By turns cheering and chanting, a large crowd vowed to stand with Israel and support its right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks during a two hour-long rally in Washington, D.C. on July 17 that featured an array of speakers including rabbis, a minister, four members of Congress and dignitaries from Canada and Israel.
Some 1,000 people, many of whom were draped in Israeli flags, attended the rally at Farragut Square, according to Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which co-sponsored the event with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
About 80 local and national organizations also supported the rally. “Let us be clear. Hamas is responsible for the violence.
There is no moral equivalency. We Jews value life,” Halber told the crowd. Reuven Azar, head of mission at the Embassy of Israel in D.C., said that with 6 million Israelis under constant attack, “We are here to defend our citizens. In contrast to that, Hamas is hiding behind its citizens.”
He noted that even an Israeli humanitarian aid shipment of food and medicine headed to Gaza last week was attacked by Hamas.
“Rest assured, Israel will survive this challenge, because we love life, we sanctify life,” Azar said. Critics of Israel have pointed out that the Palestinian death toll far exceeds the number of Israelis killed. But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) called that argument flawed.
If counting the number of dead is the way to decide which side is right, then “by that reckoning, you look at World War II and you see that Eisenhower is a war criminal” due to the high number of German casualties, Sherman said, adding, “Every rocket fired into Israel is a war crime.” His colleague, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) spoke of Congress’ strong support for Israel.
If Hamas “would protect their own children as much as Israel protects their own children, we would have a chance for peace. Hamas needs to understand, Israel is here to stay forever.”
Added Franks: “Human rights groups need to stand up for what is happening. This is about religious freedom. This is about human freedom.”
A few pro-Palestinian protestors tried to interrupt the speeches, but they were mostly ignored by the speakers.
One such protester continually shouted into a megaphone, “Stop the killing. Stop the hate. Israel is a racist state.” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, while acknowledging the protesters’ right to speak, countered their argument: “Never before in history has a nation taken the steps Israel has to avoid civilian killing.” Still, he warned, “We must never, never turn our backs when civilians die.”
Steve Rakitt, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, agreed with Saperstein that “[w]e mourn the loss of all innocent life in Gaza and Israel. A child is a child is a child.” However, he said, “We must be prepared to support [Israel] when so many others will not.”
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, sporting an Israeli flag in a pocket of his suit coat, led the crowd in chanting, “We stand united. We stand strong, and we stand together.”
Rev. Jason Poling, founding pastor of New Hope Church in Baltimore, also spoke of unity. “All people of goodwill need to stand together,” he said.
The crowd saved its loudest cheers for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), adding calls for him to run for president in 2016.
Cruz spoke of his strong support for the people of Israel, claiming “Their fight is our fight.
Their enemies are our enemies.” Conditions between Israel and the Palestinians will not change “until Hamas and the Palestinian Authority stop inciting hate and stop celebrating and lionizing terror,” Cruz said.
Attending the rally was Zach Morse, a George Washington University student. “It’s really great to show everyone passing by that this many people and this strong of a Jewish community can come out and support Israel.”
Steven Adelberg, of Springfield, agreed, praising the fact that “people from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. have come out here today to show their support for the state of Israel, its right to exist, its right to defend itself.”
Also attending the rally was Conrad Holstag, an Israeli citizen. “No country in the world has missiles raining down on it just because it exists. And at the same time, Israel is providing electricity and water and food to the people who are bombing it. It makes no sense at all.”
General assignment reporter Alexa Laz contributed to this article.