WASHINGTON (JTA) — When it sends a contingent to the mass pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C. next week, Americans for Peace Now will be standing alongside a group led by someone it accused of racist tweets.
That group, the Zionist Organization of America, has accused Americans for Peace Now of supporting antisemitism.
Leaders of both groups said they would still protest together on Nov. 14.
“It is nearly certain that some speakers at the rally will say things that we disagree with, and they will certainly not say everything that we believe needs to be said,” said an alert from APN, a left-wing pro-Israel group. “But we will not cede this ground to those with whom we disagree. We will stand together as a community alongside other Jewish organizations in our Peace Bloc and yes, alongside those who do not share our views.”
Morton Klein, the president of the right-wing ZOA, sounded the same note: “The Hamas Jew-hater types are after all of us, no matter our political views, so I’m proud to stand together with my fellow Jews who understand this is a flight to protect all Jews, no matter their political position or religious beliefs,” he said.
Securing the presence of those two groups along with others that are firmly on the right and left was one of the goals of the rally, which was called last week and aims to attract tens of thousands to demonstrate for Israel, on behalf of the hostages held by Hamas, and against antisemitism.
The rally’s goal is to shore up support for Israel’s war effort more than a month after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel sparked an Israeli invasion of Gaza aimed at deposing the terror group. That invasion has sparked growing criticism of a mounting civilian death toll along with calls for a ceasefire. But the rally also aims to show that even as American Jews have become increasingly polarized, a broad spectrum of Jewish organizations and their supporters can still unite behind an overarching message of backing Israel and opposing antisemitism.
“It’s just indicative of the clarity that comes from October 7,” said William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is organizing the rally along with the Jewish Federations of North America. “We must stand together as one, and we can put aside our differences, big differences and small differences, and focus on the commonality of our connectivity to Israel and our connectivity to each other as Jews here and around the world.”
To that end, organizers have curated the rally to feature speakers and branding that attract a broad consensus. By the same token, they are eschewing steps that could alienate segments of the Jewish organizational world.
The rally has no official cosponsors, and leaders of organizations will not be delivering any major speeches from the stage. The emphasis from the podium, Daroff said, will be on the tragedy of Oct. 7 and the need to free hostages, as well as the danger of antisemitism on campus and elsewhere.
“We are talking to families of hostages and survivors and evacuees and others who were affected by Oct. 7 In Israel,” he said, referring to possible speakers. A program for the rally has not been issued
“We’re also talking to students who have experienced hate on our campuses,” he said. And invitations have already gone out to top congressional leaders and to top Biden administration officials, he said, “as well as the top-flight entertainers and people from the entertainment industry.”
The rally is being promoted by major Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox groups. Along with APN, the pro-Israel left will be represented by the liberal lobby J Street. APN’s president, Hadar Susskind, said the lack of cosponsors made it easier to join. He didn’t have to worry about APN’s logo showing up alongside those of groups it opposes.
“The concept that no one is co-sponsoring this, I think, is very smart,” he said. “Because, frankly, had I been asked to co sponsor it. I’m not sure that I would have. Co-sponsoring, to me, is a different level than just ‘we’re going to it.’”
A poll released by the Jewish Federations on Thursday showed that large majorities of American Jews fear rising antisemitism and back military aid to Israel.
The entirety of the Jewish left will not be represented on Tuesday, though they may organize their own demonstration: Jewish organizations that have accused Israel of genocide and advocated in protests for an immediate ceasefire, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, did not respond to requests for comment on whether they would counterprotest.
Rally organizers hope to have the same impact as mass Jewish-led National Mall rallies in 2002, when the Second Intifada was raging in Israel, and in 1987 on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Those rallies topped 100,000 attendees. But judging by this rally’s permit request, its attendance will be lower. Organizers have asked the National Park Service for space to accommodate 60,000 people.
But Daroff still believes the showing will be significant.
“We hear of just thousands and thousands of people coming to Washington — schools that are closing and bringing their whole student bodies and universities doing the same, federations that are chartering planes, people coming from the West Coast. Huge numbers of people coming from South Florida,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if all of Boca Raton’s synagogues convened on the National Mall on Tuesday.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be political tensions. At the time of the announcement on Monday night, the Biden administration and Israel were more or less in lockstep in terms of rejecting pressure from the left for a ceasefire. Biden officials are reportedly now pressing for a three-day pause in fighting to deliver humanitarian relief; if Israel resists, those political statements could play out among the speakers from the podium. On Thursday, Israel agreed to pauses of several hours per day for humanitarian relief.
Daroff said security would be tight — another overarching concern of American Jews. “The very first call that I made, as we were considering having this event, was to Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security,” he said. National security agencies will also be providing security for the event.
“We will have literally hundreds of security officials who will be around as well, including our own private security,” he said. “There will be metal detectors, magnetometers and I’m confident that on November 14, at one o’clock, among the safest places on the planet will be our little piece of the National Mall.”