As an LGBTQ group was nearing the end of the Celebrate Israel parade route last Sunday, several marchers took off their button-down shirts, revealing red Jewish Voice for Peace shirts. Linking arms to block the rest of the group, they raised protest signs that read, “Queer Jews for Free Palestine” and “No Pride in Apartheid.”

The protesters were part of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish activist group that calls for withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank and east Jerusalem and supports the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. They marched in the LGBTQ coalition without informing the coalition’s leaders of their intent.

When the LGBTQ marchers attempted to move past the JVP protesters, the protesters started “pushing and shoving and using their bodies to physically impede us,” according to Hannah Simpson, one of the marchers with Jewish Queer Youth.

Participants attending the “Celebrate Israel” parade with Jewish Queer Youth last Sunday in NYC. Courtesy of Mordechai Levovitz

“This situation could have escalated,” she said. “I think it’s tremendously scary and should be universally condemned by the entire Jewish community that these are not tactics that are acceptable for discourse.”

“We made it clear that we don’t think apartheid and occupation are anything to celebrate.”

The LGBTQ coalition also included A Wider Bridge, which works to support Israel’s LGBTQ community, Eshel, which works on building LGBTQ acceptance in Orthodox communities and Mosaic of Westchester.

Craig Willse, one of seven protesters arrested at the parade, said he was there to “counter Israel’s pinkwashing” and to “publicly show that LGBTQ people stand in solidarity with Palestinians and their oppression.” (Israel critics use “pinkwashing” to describe their belief that Israel highlights its gay-friendly culture to downplay critiques of the state.)

“It was important to bring another message,” he said. “We made it clear that we don’t think apartheid and occupation are anything to celebrate.”

One of the protestors who “infiltrated” the JQY group. Courtesy of Mordechai Levovitz

In addition to the LGBTQ infiltration, JVP had about 100 people “repeatedly disrupting” the parade from the sidelines, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Mordechai Levovitz, executive director of JQY, an organization supporting LGBTQ youth in the Jewish community, condemned JVP’s targeting of the LGBTQ community.

“You never target an at-risk population,” said Levovitz. “You don’t target the people who are already oppressed. That’s irresponsible activism.” Many of the teens who marched are “showing themselves publicly as LGBTQ for the first time,” said Simpson.

“You never target an at-risk population. You don’t target the people who are already oppressed. That’s irresponsible activism.”

“It seemed like a very petty sort of targeting,” said Gedalia Penner, who first marched in the LGBTQ coalition last year. “It’s not like we particularly focus on Israel in any of our meetings; we were marching among everyone else and because we were the most liberal among them, we were targeted.”

At an event with a largely Orthodox attendance, the protesters’ decision to infiltrate the LGBTQ coalition hit especially close to home. “It’s ironic because most of the time we have to worry about heckling from religious folks,” said Levovitz.

Until 2012, the Celebrate Israel parade had a policy prohibiting openly LGBTQ groups from marching. JQY first marched in the Israel Day Parade in 2012 after the policy was changed. “Every year there are more people celebrating with us and showing us support, said Levovitz. “The first year we marched, people were a little shocked. You always have a few people covering their children’s eyes, but there’s less and less.”

“We belong in this community,” said Levovitz. “Israel is big enough to include us.”