About 250 GW students joined what has been called the largest support rally for Israel in U.S. history Monday, turning the Capitol lawn into a sea of people and blue and white Israeli flags.
The more than 100,000 demonstrators stretched from the steps of the Capitol building to the Washington Monument to show solidarity with Israel as violence escalates in the Middle East. A sound system projected the speeches of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and author Elie Wiesel, among others, to the National Mall.
“It’s going to show the whole world what’s up, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere,” said sophomore Jenny Gross, who attended the rally with a group from GW’s Hillel. About 20 students from the Rock Christian Fellowship also attended the rally.
The rally falls in the middle of Hillel’s Israel Month, which also included a celebration of Israel Independence Day Wednesday. Monday was Israeli Memorial Day, which commemorates Israeli soldiers killed in war.
Students arriving at the Capitol in the afternoon clogged cell phone networks to meet schools and groups and inched their way through the crowd to security entrances of the lawn. Signs reading “9/11 Was a suicide bomb” and “American Jews stand with Israel” bobbed above the crowd, from which a collective voice occasionally rose in cheers or Hebrew song.
Although she said she is not usually very active in Jewish demonstrations, sophomore Erica Merson said “when something like this is going on, you need to find it in yourself to support Israel in times of trouble.”
Speakers emphasized U.S. support of Israel and the similarity between the American and Israeli wars on terrorism.
“Israel and the United States are today fighting the same battle, waging the same war, confronting the same evil,” Netanyahu said.
The former prime minister was greeted with roars of applause as he denounced terrorism.
Giuliani thanked Israel for standing behind the United States on Sept. 11, adding that Israeli citizens relate to living with terror.
“All of us today … we are optimistic,” he said. “We are hopeful, because we know, not in any belligerent sense, but we know that we’re right and they’re wrong.”
Sophomore Tal Viskin said rallies like Monday’s are necessary so “Jews around the world recognize that Israel’s strength is important to their safety.”
He also said the demonstration displayed Jewish pride in a time when the actions of Israeli soldiers are being questioned by the media and opposing activists.
“Israel’s actions are moral. There’s nothing you should be ashamed of,” said Viskin, who said he has cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents in Israel. “You should be proud of being Jews and proud of Israel.”
Students pointed out differences in anti-World Bank/International Monetary Fund and anti-war protests planned for this weekend in D.C.
“We’re not trying to stop anything, we’re trying to say ‘thanks, Bush for supporting our family and friends,'” said freshman Sarah Cohen, who wore a dark blue and yellow shirt portraying the Hebrew letters for “GW.”