About 300 Jewish people headed to DC Israel rally left stranded by bus drivers' walkout
( NYPost )
Hundreds of Jewish people headed to Tuesday’s pro-Israel rally in DC were left stranded when bus drivers staged “a deliberate and malicious walk-off,’’ a major Jewish organization said.
The “anti-protest” left a chartered flight from Detroit — about 300 people — on the Dulles Airport tarmac for about 11 hours before they were sent back home, causing them to miss the entire March for Israel event.
“I thought it was nuts, I thought it was crazy that we’re blocked from getting to the rally,” Jonathan Kaufman told The Post, adding that there were “frantic” calls to find out what was happening as they were stranded for hours.
“Our right to assembly is a constitutional right — and this was straight-up blocking that.”
Kaufman and 900 others hopped on three private planes out of Detroit chartered by the Jewish Federation of Detroit, which also booked several buses to transport the massive group to the march at DC’s National Mall.
A third of the passengers weren’t allowed to leave the tarmac, however, after several buses failed to show up on the tarmac upon their 10:30 a.m. landing, according to a federation spokesperson.
The drivers had organized a “mass sick-out” day to prevent Jewish ralliers from attending the much-anticipated march, leaving just a handful available to meet their obligations.
“We have learned from the bus company that this was caused by a deliberate and malicious walk-off of drivers,” the spokesperson told The Post.
The bus company — which the federation repeatedly refused to name — told the Jewish Federation of Detroit that a “significant number” of drivers called out sick when they learned they would be taking hundreds of Jewish Americans to the pro-Israel rally, the organization’s David Kurzmann told reporters at a press conference 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,” Kurzmann said.
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations CEO William Daroff, one of the March for Israel organizers, also confirmed that the “bus drivers refused to take them to a pro-Israel event.”
Those who were left behind spent roughly three hours on the tarmac before they were finally funneled into several buses — from which they were swiftly ejected after it turned out the buses weren’t for their group.
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 were also forced to wait several hours for their team members who did make it to the rally to finally return before the chartered flights could fly back to Michigan.
Throughout the day-long fumble, organizers from the Jewish Federation of Detroit were giving updates to the passengers about the supposed counter-protest through the speaker on the plane.
Kaufman — who spent hundreds of dollars to attend the march with his mother — called the walkout “a deliberate antisemitic act” that “would have been called a hate crime” if it happened to any other ethnic group.
“This is a historical moment — and I would have loved to be part of it.”
The massive group was initially told the buses were struggling to get through security to enter the concourse and reach the tarmac before they were told the truth.
“About an hour and a half later, we were told that there was an ongoing walkout of bus drivers from the company that was hired to drive us into the city and that the shortage of drivers was making it very difficult to get us into DC,” Jonah Seinfeld-Chopp, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Michigan, told The Post.
Seinfeld-Chopp and his girlfriend had woken up at 5 a.m. to make it to the march, which was billed as an opportunity for “Americans from all walks of life” to condemn rising antisemitism across the nation and to demand that Hamas finally release the hundreds of Israeli hostages it is hiding in Gaza.
The student, who took a year of his studies in 2022 to visit Israel, said he expected to see others from his birthright trip.
“I was actually really looking forward to see the dozens of kids from my program who flew/bused from all over the country to be there,” he said.
The walkout could land the bus company in legal trouble for the apparent antisemitic walkout, Brooke Goldstein, a human rights lawyer and founder of The Lawfare Project, exclusively told The Post.
“Any company that so blatantly refuses to provide services to Jewish people engages in unlawful discrimination,” Goldstein said.
“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.”
The Jewish Federation of Detroit emphasized that the bus company did everything in its power to help the group of stranded ralliers, but was ultimately left powerless with its limited staff.
“They were wonderful, cooperative. It was just an unfortunate logistical snafu that they had no control over,” Kurzmann said.
When asked by The Post why Kurzmann and the organization were refusing to name the bus company, he said: “The answer is simply no, that that’s not an act that we’re doing at this time.”
The closest the flight passengers got to the march, however, was one they staged themselves on the tarmac.
The group waved Israeli flags and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”) before they were pushed back inside the plane to wait for the lucky few from their group to return from the march.
The Detroit group wasn’t the only one headed to the pro-Israel rally to be ditched by bus drivers Tuesday.
Hundreds of other people who gathered in Westport, Conn., to take two chartered buses to the event also were left without a ride, organizers told News 12.
The transportation firm claimed there had been a scheduling error and the buses had been canceled. The marchers took matters into their own hands and piled into 38 cars to make the 280-mile trip to DC.