WASHINGTON (Michigan News Source) – Hundreds of Jewish people who planned to go to the Washington D.C. “March for Israel” rally were left stranded by bus drivers in what a Jewish organization calls a “deliberate and malicious” walkout. They report that the drivers had organized a “mass sick-out” day in order to prevent Jewish ralliers from attending the march on the National Mall.
David Kurzmann, senior director of community affairs at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit said in a statement, “We have learned from the bus company that this was caused by a deliberate and malicious walk-off of drivers. Fortunately, many were able to travel to the march, and we are grateful to the drivers of those buses that arrived.” He added, “While we are deeply dismayed by this disgraceful action, our resolve to proudly stand in solidarity with the people of Israel, to condemn antisemitism and to demand the return of every hostage held by Hamas has never been greater.”
Local members of the Jewish Federation of Detroit and the Jewish Community Relations Council, about 900 of them, flew to D.C. from Detroit in three privately chartered planes, to attend the march in order to show their solidarity with Israel after the Hamas attack on Israel October 7th.
But when many of the buses that were hired to take the members from the Dulles International Airport to the event didn’t show up, it delayed, and in some cases prevented, their arrival to the event with about a third of the passengers not being allowed to leave the tarmac for hours.
The New York Post reports that because chartered flights cannot depart the tarmac without pre-organized vehicular transportation, those passengers who were unable to board the limited buses were forced back onto the plane and missed the entire day-long rally. They also had to wait several hours for their team members who made it to the rally to return to the flights so they could fly back to Michigan.
Jonathan Kaufman, who flew to D.C. for the rally, told the Post, “I thought it was nuts, I thought it was crazy that we’re blocked from getting to the rally.” He said that frantic calls were made to find out what was happening as they waited, stranded for hours. He said, “Our right to assembly is a constitutional right – and this was straight-up blocking that.”
Kurzmann said at a press conference on Tuesday, “In the way that this action prevented proud Jewish Americans from exercising their freedom to speak, protest, assemble gathered today at the nation’s capital, that to me was a malicious act. It was an act targeting the Jewish community as far as their participation in this rally.” He called the walkout a “deliberate antisemitic act” that “would have been called a hate crime” if it had happened to any other ethnic group.
Jonah Seinfeld-Chopp, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Michigan said that after about an hour-and-a-half of waiting for a bus they were told the truth about the walkout of bus drivers and that the shortage of drivers would make it difficult to take them to D.C. 19-year-old Ella Cohen, who made it to the march, said that there were some bus companies who stepped in at the last minute to help out some of the rally-goers and others took Ubers to the march.
Approximately 300,000 Israel supporters attended the rally on the National Mall in what’s been called “the largest Jewish gathering in US history,” crying “never again.” Attendance by politicians was bipartisan, including Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jefferies and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.
It remains to be seen if the walkout could land the bus company in legal trouble. Brooke Goldstein, a human rights lawyer and founder of The Lawfare Project, told the Post, “Any company that so blatantly refuses to provide services to Jewish people engages in unlawful discrimination.” She went on to say, “The scale of what allegedly happened to these Jewish people is outrageous; on a day when hundreds of thousands of allies gathered to spread a message of unity with, and support for, the Jewish community, and to demand the release of hostages taken by barbaric terrorists, we see firsthand the discrimination that Jewish people face on a daily basis in the United States.”
State Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) was one of the ones who traveled to D.C. on one of the chartered planes and said his group had to wait for hours to deplane before finally loading onto a bus only to be taken off the bus 30 minutes later and having to get back on the airplane. His group never made it to the rally. Moss said his group was denied an opportunity to be part of a “tremendous display of support … for the hostages and a strong rebuke of antisemitism.” He went on to say, “I’ve spent my tenure in the Legislature fighting discrimination when seeking goods or services that are denied based on identity or affiliation. Moss, who is openly gay, added, “There are a lot of questions (about what happened) and we deserve to know the answers.”
Apparently, the group from Detroit weren’t the only ones to be left without a way to get to the rally in D.C.. In Westport, Connecticut, there were hundreds of people gathered to take two chartered busses to the event who were also left without transportation when their buses, booked with US Coachways, failed to arrive. The dispatcher told them that there had been a scheduling error and the buses had been cancelled. The rally-goers ended up piling into 38 cars and drove to D.C.
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit posted on Facebook after the event took place, “We are extraordinarily proud of what was accomplished by the Jewish Detroiters and interfaith partners who traveled yesterday to Washington DC to take part in the March for Israel….Next to us on the tarmac was an El Al flight carrying the family members of the hostages, offering a sobering reminder for why this march was so important. Israel remains at war and 240 women, men and children are still in the hands of terrorists in Gaza. The powerful truth we want to share today is that we stand united as a community in our unwavering support for Israel and its people. Jewish Detroit was there for Israel yesterday, today and always. We also want to acknowledge the heroic efforts of our staff to create an unforgettable and inspiring experience for everyone who traveled to the nationwide rally.”
They continued to say, “We appreciate the understanding and patience that were exhibited by participants in the face of the significant delays and inconveniences that occurred on the trip. As you have heard, many drivers from the bus company in DC failed to fulfill their obligation to take our travelers to the National Mall. We also learned that some of the travel delays were the result of the exceptional volume of planes at Dulles International Airport due to the event, despite the best efforts of our staff and lay leadership, along with personnel from the airport and TSA. Please know that we are gathering information and assessing future steps with our professional counsel regarding these issues. We are deeply grateful to those who participated in this journey. Together, we demonstrated that our purpose and resolve to support the people of Israel remains unwavering and absolute.”