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Thousands demonstrate in Washington against the White House’s unconditional support for Israel

Protests in many US cities, as well as in Europe and Asia, call for a ceasefire to bring relief to the Palestinian people

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Thousands of people demonstrate in solidarity with the Palestinians, Saturday in Washington.
Thousands of people demonstrate in solidarity with the Palestinians, Saturday in Washington.WILL OLIVER (EFE)

Marches for Palestine called in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Washington, Seattle and San Francisco, but also in smaller U.S. cities, have amplified this Saturday the echo of the growing demonstrations of opposition to Israel, but also to the closed support of Joe Biden’s Administration to the ongoing offensive against Gaza. With the one in Washington as a symbol of a mobilization that was intended to be national, the protests echoed the massive demonstrations of support for Palestine in Asian and European capitals, such as those called today in London, Berlin, Paris, Ankara or Istanbul.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Washington waving Palestinian flags, while chanting slogans such as “Biden, you can’t hide, you signed up for genocide”, before gathering in Freedom Square, just a few steps from the White House. The speakers denounced the president’s support for Israel, accusing him of having “blood on his hands.” Some vowed they would not support Biden’s re-election bid next year, nor the campaigns of other Democrats, calling them “two-faced” liberals. Other protesters berated civil rights leaders for not condemning the deaths of women and children from Israeli bombing. Gaza health authorities on Saturday put the number of Palestinians killed by Israel at 9,488.

Although the majority of American public opinion is sympathetic to Israel, the magnitude of the reprisals against Gaza has spurred the demonstrators, much less visible and numerous than those who have demanded in the streets the right to defend themselves against Israel. The muezzins of the mosques of the Bay Ridge neighborhood, the epicenter of the Palestinian community in New York, invited on Friday to participate in the march on Washington, the heart of the country’s political power, as a national advance guard of a growing response — also by Democratic legislators — to the foreign policy of the Democratic Administration. Although Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reiterated his Administration’s rejection of a ceasefire, in line with Israel, a growing public outcry in the U.S. increasingly supports a cessation of hostilities. Jewish groups occupied the Capitol in Washington two weeks ago, as well as the main train station in New York, to put pressure on the White House.

Among those denouncing the Biden Administration’s stance is Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the first representative of Palestinian origin in Congress, who has accused the president of supporting a “genocide” against the Palestinians and warned of the likely repercussions of such support in the 2024 elections. In a video posted on X (formerly Twitter) late Friday, the Democratic congresswoman from Michigan reiterated to Biden her call for an immediate ceasefire.

That Biden’s unwavering support for Israel may cost him dearly is beyond doubt. The community of Arab-Muslim Democratic voters, such as those from Michigan State — like Tlaib — who were instrumental in his victory at the polls in 2020, are now reconsidering their support in light of the alignment with Israel. And every vote will prove crucial a year from now, when the presidential election will be held. The president’s popularity is plummeting (42% support versus 57% opposition, according to polls published this week), while forecasts show a virtual tie at the polls between the Democratic candidate and the Republican (predictably, and despite all his open judicial fronts, Donald Trump).

Hence, Washington’s push for “humanitarian pauses” on the ground is seen by many Arab and/or Muslim Americans as a mere gesture for the gallery. The collective makes up a small percentage of the country’s population, but they have a pronounced influence in hotly contested states like Michigan, home to more than 200,000 registered Muslim voters, 146,000 of whom turned out to vote in 2020, according to an analysis by Emgage, a political lobbying group of American Muslims. Biden won then by 155,000 votes over Trump. In New York, Muslims number about 700,000, and Palestinians between 7,000 and 9,000, according to different sources, but the census may be considerably higher as many are registered by country of origin (from Israel, Jordan, etc.). The support of this group for Biden began to waver not only because of his message to the nation on the third day of the war, considered in Israel to be more Zionist than that of many other Zionists, but also because of decisions such as vetoing in the UN Security Council a first attempt at a resolution, presented by Brazil, to declare “humanitarian pauses”, or discrediting the death toll figures given by the Gaza authorities.

Despite very little mainstream media coverage — brief television connections to the Washington rally at best — Saturday’s marches reflect the constellation of causes and groups that have long been linked to Palestinian politics, including student organizations — very active on campuses — unions and anti-war campaigns. In Washington, garbage trucks and police vehicles blocked part of Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the White House, as the demonstration started from the Museum of the Palestinian People, just over a mile away, to Freedom Square while the muezzin called for afternoon prayer.

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