Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

The November 14th Solidarity Rally for Israel: Unpacking This Gathering

Frederick Douglas reminds us that “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” The staging of the November 14th Solidarity Rally for Israel succeeded on several different fronts. Its message was targeted, direct and clear. The massive attendance, beating all predictions, exceeding all prior Washington Jewish gatherings, made it newsworthy and relevant. It received global coverage, not only in connection with its impressive numbers but the nature of its political and humanitarian messages.

This gathering had three core outcomes:

  1. Focusing on the release of the 240 individuals who had been kidnapped by Hamas and are now being held as hostages.
  2. Defining the character and behavior of Hamas as not only a security problem for Israel but identifying such a terrorist organization as a danger to the West.
  3. Identifying and rejecting anti-Semitism as not only a danger and challenge for Jews but also a threat to American democracy.

Few such public events can both achieve their core goals: to mobilize public opinion and to inspire its supporters to remain engaged. This major mobilization of pro-Israel voices was designed by necessity to offset the growing presence of rallies, opinion columns, and public expressions embracing Palestinians and Hamus. It was a necessary extension of community gatherings for Israel, providing a national platform for such public manifestations of support, just as it served to counter the sharp rise in anti-Semitic actions and anti-Zionist expressions.

This nearly three-hour gathering managed to achieve important outcomes:

  • Demonstrate inclusion and equity, by engaging diverse speakers, musicians and various public figures.
  • Frame some of the core historic and human elements defining the story of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
  • Allow the participants to reconnect with Jewish tradition and culture through the music and words of various presenters.
  • Reconnect with the American-Israel connection as articulated by key political elites.
  • Remind the audience that Jews are not alone in this struggle as key religious and ethnic leadership shared their support.
  • Identify the specific concerns and threats facing Jewish college students.
  • Provide powerful and meaningful moments of connection for Israeli individuals and families who had experienced the loss of loved ones and who had friends and family members kidnapped by Hamas.
  • Reflect the broad and diverse tent of Jewish organizational participation.
  • Remind both those present on the Mall and those participating by Livestream what are the immediate primary responsibilities and tasks ahead.

Such events are both challenging to produce. The complexities of managing the programmatic, security and procedural details are only offset by the determination of whom to include and certainly what to exclude, considering time limitations and the defined public relations context for such a gathering.

The success and impact of this demonstration can be measured in multiple ways: Media coverage represents one core strategic element as the “event” and its messaging were replayed in front of millions of people around the world. “Impact Studies” identify how such media moments are amplified by the extent and level of the coverage afforded it. The repetition of the messages and pictures of such a demonstration allows this story to have a multiplier effect in shaping or re-enforcing public opinion among key influencers as well as the mass public.

Secondly, for those both present and for those watching, it becomes a “fixed moment” in time, something that they will reference and recall as significant and powerful in shaping their Jewish awareness and identity. Even beyond those who were a part of this experience, the November 14th gathering will be inscribed as a transformational Jewish moment!

Third, the unifying messaging of such a gathering can and will be replayed by Jewish communities, schools, synagogues, and Hillel groups. The “replay effect” allows us to employ this demonstration as a type of living covenant as both inspirational and future focused.

The Solidarity Gathering in DC has generated specific highlights for us spotlighting individual speakers and presenters, who in that moment captured our attention. The students from GW and Columbia with their powerful and personal messages; the stories of those taken hostage as articulated by their family members; and the music selections and their presentations, these and other voices become elevated as the face of this demonstration and where these personalities will likely become the symbols and even spokespersons for our cause, moving well beyond this gathering.

As we know with such powerful and historical experiences, these occasions take on a life of their own. This can be defined in part by the numbers of individuals who came together. It will be referenced both by the clarity of its messaging as well as by the diversity of its presenters.

This demonstration reminds us, as well, of earlier such collective action, as we recall Solidarity Sunday, December 6,1987, as some 200,000 gathered in Washington for Soviet Jewry. That moment still resonates both with its participants but also would come to symbolize the ultimate success of this human rights struggle to bring to freedom thousands of Jews.

This inspiring collection of our people being together has now happened, and in so many ways, this storyline will continue, as a part of the living Jewish experience. Historians remind us that such events generate their imprint not only on those who would present in DC, but the ripple effect is likely to be continuous, serving as the mantra for our fighting anti-Semitism, in defeating Hamas, and in securing the return of the hostages!

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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