Streets were closed around much of downtown amid heightened security, as people gathered in bright sunshine on the National Mall, many draped in Israeli and U.S. flags.
“We are here to show the world that we won’t be exterminated again,” said Marco Abbou, 57, a personal trainer from Hackensack, New Jersey, who is originally from Israel.
Organizers of Tuesday’s demonstration said they estimated 200,000 people were attending to show U.S. support for Israel, demand the release of hostages and condemn antisemitic violence and harassment.
“A ceasefire is a pause that would allow Hamas to rearm,” said Ariel Ben-Chitrit, 33, a federal government worker from Herndon, Virginia, who was carrying a blue and white Israeli flag at Tuesday’s protest.
Ben-Chitrit expressed regret that Palestinian civilians were suffering and Gaza hospitals being subjected to extreme conditions, but said the only way to end the conflict was to eliminate Hamas.
“Hamas has proven they are not interested in peace,” he said.
Underscoring support in the U.S. Congress for Israel, busloads of senators and members of the House of Representatives attended the pro-Israel rally. Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, and the highest-ranking Jewish elected U.S. official, rescheduled his weekly press conference so he could attend.
Authorities ordered an increased police presence for the demonstration, the House of Representative’s Sergeant at Arms said in a notice on Monday, adding there was no specific threat but measures were being taken out of an abundance of caution.
Tuesday’s rally included Orthodox Jews wearing long black coats and black felt hats, gaggles of children, and self-described “progressive liberals” such as Erica Taxin, 56, a yoga studio owner from Philadelphia.
She said she disagreed with other progressives calling for a ceasefire.
“We can disagree about some of Israel’s policies. What I do disagree with is that this was terrorism,” she said of Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault.
The militants “didn’t just take hostages but killed children and peacemakers,” she said, referring to murdered Israeli activists who advocated peace with the Palestinians. “How does that have anything to do with social justice?”