A Tale of Two Protests: Scottish journalist reports from Washington

Left: Supporters of Israel gather in solidarity with Israel and protest against antisemitism on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., November 14, 2023. Right: Protesters demonstrate during an event calling for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., November 15, 2023.

Nearly 300,000 people came and went Tuesday, and the Henry statue remained unmolested, its foliage untouched and without so much as a plastic wrapper tossed at its feet.

As it turns out, large-scale political demonstrations can be entirely, not just “mostly,” peaceful.

Indeed, there’s something to be said about the stark contrast between the March for Israel and the various pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have erupted since Hamas’s indiscriminate slaughter of an estimated 1,200 Israelis and others, many of whom were civilians, on October 7.

Pro-Palestinian rallies around the globe often involve vandalism, coded calls for genocide, assaults, masked demonstrators, and the defacement of public property, and they occasionally involve the desecration of national monuments and flags. In contrast, the pro-Israel rally in the nation’s capital this past week was peaceful, harmonious, and calm, or, as Zach Kessel aptly described it, a clarifying moment for a “truly moral movement.”

The rally began around 11 a.m. with a series of speeches from pro-Israel leaders, including Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries. Following the addresses, demonstrators marched to the White House, where they rallied for the release of Israeli hostages currently held by Hamas, at least nine of whom are U.S. citizens.

The rally remained peaceful throughout. There were tears and laughter. There was singing — a lot of singing. From any vantage point, one could see Israeli flags proudly waved, flanked on all sides by a greater number of American flags. Disguises — hoodies and masks — were not the order of the day. There were no implicit (or explicit) calls for genocide. There were no reported assaults. There was no reported violence. And though the rally was held in support of Israel, clear shows of American patriotism were common throughout the day, including chants of “USA! USA! USA!” led by Schumer.

At pro-Palestinian rallies, it is commonplace to hear demonstrators lob unsubtle calls for the extermination of Israel. Expressions such as “Globalize the intifada,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “There is only one solution: intifada, revolution” are often heard. The phrase “Glory to our martyrs,” which refers specifically to the Hamas terrorists who died on October 7, is likewise a common refrain at these demonstrations.

Then there are the flag burnings, the violence, and the vandalism.

In comparison, the most “violent” moment at the March for Israel came when House Speaker Mike Johnson declared, “The calls for a cease-fire are outrageous,” prompting the crowd to erupt in chants of, “No cease-fire!”

The pro-Hamas crowd and other leftists claim Johnson explicitly called for more death and injury for unarmed Palestinian civilians, but this is obviously a distorted interpretation of his remarks and the reaction they sparked.

As someone who was there on Tuesday and spoke with pro-Israel demonstrators, I can tell you the crowd wasn’t cheering for war. It wasn’t voicing gargled exclamations of gleeful bloodlust. The crowd was cheering the flat refusal to surrender to terror and to abandon the hostages held by Hamas.

Remember: A cease-fire was in place on October 6. Hamas broke it on October 7. A cease-fire now is just “regroup and reload” by another name. The crowd was cheering Israel’s resolve to put an end — finally — to Hamas’s reign of terror. This deserves applause.

In all, the March for Israel was quite possibly the most orderly and peaceful large-scale political demonstration this side of the annual March for Life.

Speaking of which, the orderly and peaceful nature of the rally is likely why the Washington Post, the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital, declined to make the rally on the National Mall a front-page news story the following day.

The Post’s November 15 above-the-fold front page mentions Israeli forces overtaking a key hospital in Gaza. The front page mentions the House passing a stopgap funding measure. It also mentions tensions between U.S. lawmakers. Below the fold, the front page mentions former Trump allies who now dish on the former president’s actions following his defeat in the 2020 election. Below the fold, the front page has a section about a man who ran a D.C.-based bookstore. There is also a part of the page dedicated to news regarding “forbidden Russian oil” that flows now to the U.S. military.

And then, at the very bottom, in the left-hand corner, under the “In the news” heading, there’s a line that reads, “March for Israel: Thousands gathered on the National Mall to express solidarity, condemn antisemitism, and demand the release of hostages who were taken by Hamas.”

That’s it.

On Tuesday, as the rally’s guest speakers took turns addressing the crowd, the sun crept slowly behind the Joseph Henry statue. By the end of the day, no one had trespassed the flimsy fencing set up around the statute. No one had trampled the foliage. No one had scaled the statue. No one had spray-painted it with graffiti. No one had draped it in a foreign country’s flag. No one had defaced the statue with various signage representing third-world blood feuds.

An estimated 290,000 demonstrators came and went Tuesday, and the statue remained untouched.

The next day, a pro-Palestinian protest held outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., turned violent, as an estimated 150 protesters clashed with law-enforcement officials.

Demonstrators blocked the entrances and exits to the DNC headquarters, denying several members of Congress both ingress and egress. The demonstrators rebuffed requests and directives that they remove themselves from the entrances and exits, prompting police to intervene with physical force. Violent confrontations ensued.

Capitol Police issued an alert that all House office buildings and exits were sealed due to the demonstration. Six officers were treated later for injuries suffered during the altercations. One protester was arrested for assaulting a law-enforcement official.

The protest “scared me more than Jan. 6,” one House Democrat told Axios. “Police were wearing gas masks. . . . This was not peaceful.”

Who here actually wants peace?

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