Massive Palestine Rally in Washington Shows Ground Is Shifting

A multicultural movement demanding a ceasefire in Gaza has gained tremendous momentum after a mass protest in Washington and worldwide on Sunday.

Abdullah Ayasun
Dialogue & Discourse
6 min readJan 16, 2024


Nearly 400,000 people showed up at a mass demonstration in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. (Photo source: Twitter)

Hundreds of thousands of people from all political stripes and social backgrounds braved cold weather, flight and metro cancellations on Sunday for a mass rally in Washinton, D.C., and across the world to press for a ceasefire after 100 days of the Israeli offensive that pulverized much of the Gaza city, displaced almost all its inhabitants, and killed more than 10,000 children.

In response to a bloody attack by Hamas militants that killed 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers on October 7, the Netanyahu government launched a scorched-earth campaign to obliterate the tiny enclave. True to its initial campaign pledge set out in biblical revenge terms, the Israeli military laid waste to urban areas, rendering the enclave uninhabitable for many years to come. As the conflict reached its 100-day mark on Jan. 13, nearly 25,000 Gazans, the majority of whom were civilians, were killed.

Despite a brief five-day humanitarian pause in late November, Tel Aviv has so far weathered the global criticism. It repeatedly ignored international calls for a permanent ceasefire. As the Israeli offensive rages on, the latest round of conflict has powered a global movement cutting across social, ethnic, and religious cleavages in the West in a quest to pressure the Israeli government and its chief backer, the Joe Biden administration, to halt military operations to stem the tide of mounting civilian death toll.

Nearly 400,000 people flocked to the nation’s capital in the U.S. The massive turn-out is unprecedented in the U.S. history. Biden’s unflinching support for the Netanyahu government has revealed deepening cracks within the Democratic Party base, driving a wedge between voters who demand a more assertive role from the White House to rein in Israel and the old party leadership who have appeared unmoved by public calls for a ceasefire.

The Palestinian rally demonstrates how disgruntled thousands of people have grown over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war. Thousands of American Jews, alongside Christians, Muslims, and other people, expressed their support for the ceasefire.

Torah Jews, a group who oppose Zionism and the Netanyahu government, even went further to demand an independent Palestinian state. “As Torah Judaism, we stand with the Palestinian people. We want the establishment of a free and fully independent Palestinian state,” its official Twitter account said.

Palestinian-American fashion designer Alana Hadid was among the famous figures who joined the march and made a speech in support of ‘Free Palestine.’

The Gaza War and American Politics

There is an argument that the way how the Biden administration handled the war may cause him the 2024 election by losing Black, brown, and other voters of color. Writing in late October, just weeks after the Hamas attacks, Elie Mystal of The Nation penned a scathing article illuminating the risks of Biden’s self-defeating policy when it came to the Gaza War.

“Biden risks labeling himself as a president who is in favor of colonization, and one who will turn a blind eye to ethnic cleansing and war crimes — and those are tough labels to shake once they take hold in communities of color. Voters of color are strategic, and willing to swallow a lot of nonsense and vote for the lesser evil. But there are some who will simply not pull the lever for any president, in any party, who stands aside while an oppressed people is besieged, starved, and bombed into oblivion.” (Elie Mystal, The Nation)

Nearly three months later, his warning seems as prescient as ever. He bristled that many Americans may not view Israel as a colonial power. But still, many others charge that Israel is one and wages a kind of war in blatant violation of civilian lives, as the recent death toll attests. “Those are the kinds of voters who, once lost, Biden will never win back,” Mystal wrote then.

It requires little political acumen to see how this latest war threatened the unassailable power the Israeli lobby once enjoyed in American politics. The lobby may currently feel secure in both chambers of Congress, in the halls of power at the local and national levels. Both political parties still compete to prove who is most loyal to Tel Aviv. Presidents of two Ivy League colleges, Penn State and Harvard, lost their posts after their ill-managed testimonies at congressional hearings where senators grilled them. The AIPAC’s intimidation tactics and spooked college administrations might have sought to crush pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus in the name of combatting antisemitism. However, such measures to curb free expression have only exposed the shallow nature of censorship.

The mainstream American media displays outrageous levels of auto-censorship. The coverage of the war is shamefully skewed and one-sided. But deep down, something has changed. A December poll conducted by the New York Times/Siena College showed that young voters have disapproved of Biden’s policy since the onset of the conflict. More and more folks are coming to the fore to express solidarity with the Palestinian civilians.

The D.C. rally may prove to be a pivotal moment harbinger of broader changes in how people view the country’s self-projection as a champion of liberties worldwide and its actual deeds during the Gaza War. How the U.S. painted the Ukraine-Russia War and the Israel-Gaza conflict through different lenses was not lost on the Global South. It also helped many Americans see inherent moral contradictions in U.S. foreign policy in conflict zones worldwide.

In early November, Politico published a leaked dissent memo demonstrating how the U.S. diplomats lost confidence in President Biden’s approach to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. As Politico reported, there is a widening gap between America’s private and public messaging, something that “contributes to regional public perceptions that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor, which at best does not advance, and at worst harms, U.S. interests worldwide.”

Mid-level and low-ranking staffers in the State Department bemoan the hypocrisy of the U.S. approach.

“We must publicly criticize Israel’s violations of international norms such as failure to limit offensive operations to legitimate military targets. When Israel supports settler violence and illegal land seizures or employs excessive use of force against Palestinians, we must communicate publicly that this goes against our American values so that Israel does not act with impunity.” (Leaked Dissent Memo)

Commenting on the diplomats’ dissent, Spencer Ackerman of The Nation wrote, “The diplomats are right: Biden’s green light to Israel creates doubt in the legitimacy of the “rules-based” international order.”” The unlimited support the U.S. showered for Israel is now undoing the U.S. narrative of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The longstanding U.S. emphasis on rules-based order came under strain by Biden’s folly in Gaza.

“In Ukraine, Biden has spent two years articulating a stirring argument for a rules-based order. In Israel, he set about burning that argument to the ground,” Matthew Duss contended in The New Republic last month.

No matter how the U.S., U.K., France, and some other Western countries back Israel at the diplomatic level, the ground for the masses is shifting. The mass protests, the mounting criticism of the Biden White House, and Israel’s conduct of the war signal potential changes.

In early October, Holocaust scholar Raz Segal of Stockton University argued that what Israel was doing in Gaza City would amount to genocide. After a careful exposition of what constitutes genocide and a review of the Israeli leadership’s intentions, policy discourse, and the Israeli military’s possible crimes against civilians in Gaza, the scholar concluded in Jewish Currents that the Netanyahu government was on the threshold of committing genocide.

That was on October 13. Today, the Netanyahu government battles a trial at The Hague after South Africa initiated a case for genocide against Israel. How the trial would play out remains to be seen. But Israel, for all benign Western media coverage of its war crimes in Gaza, seems to have lost the global public opinion.



Abdullah Ayasun
Dialogue & Discourse

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun