On June 5, thousands of Jewish New Yorkers will march together in the Celebrate Israel Parade. We are thrilled that our organizations — New Israel Fund and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America — along with our partners, Meretz-USA and Americans for Peace Now, will march together under the banner of our shared progressive values.
For us, celebrating Israel means celebrating the existence of a homeland for the Jewish people. Celebrating Israel means celebrating this homeland as a vibrant and thriving democracy that is striving to realize the social and democratic ideals that were the foundation of the state. Celebrating Israel means celebrating our connection to people, places and an ancient history we hold dear. It also means celebrating the NGOs, lawyers, activists, and advocates who work every day to hold the country to the hope, outlined in the Declaration of Independence, that Israel will be a country “based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”
Our organizations support citizen groups in Israel working to achieve this vision. By marching in this parade, we are privileged to represent these voices. It is a point of great pride for us and for Israel that such a robust civil society has grown up there. We delight in connecting people around the world with these everyday heroes. Often, our work is about building a society in line with its own best ideals, which sometimes involves loving criticism of an imperfect society. We ask the country to create a better safety net for low-income citizens; we ask that Arab citizens of Israel have the same rights and access to public services as Jewish citizens; we ask that Israel protect the human rights of Palestinians; we ask that all streams of Jewish belief be respected and accepted; and we ask that Israel remove the obstacles to a lasting peace agreement. We make all of these demands in service of creating a Jewish homeland that lives up to the best ideals of our historical experience and our tradition.
We criticize not because Israel doesn’t have enough internal or external critics, or because it needs people who live thousands of miles away voicing an opinion on what sort of character its society should have. We do it because we love and are connected to Israel, and because as Jews we feel a sense of shared responsibility for the fate of the Jewish state. This love requires us to speak up when Israel seems to be out of line with the values we share. As the rabbis teach, “Love without rebuke is not really love” (Genesis Rabbah 54:3).
The decision to allow progressive groups to march as a block was not without controversy. There are some who believe that there is a very narrow definition of “pro-Israel” and that the parade should only honor a small segment of the spectrum of American views on Israel. But every group marching in the parade has a vision for Israel’s flourishing and encourages people to realize that vision through education, travel to Israel, philanthropy or advocacy. And we revel in the anticipation of this diverse collection of Israel supporters all marching together to celebrate the place that inspires these visions.
Celebrating Israel without any mention of the social, economic, and political challenges of the country, as some would prefer, limits our celebration to falafel and flag-waving. It fails to capture the passionate excitement that people feel about a country where the Jewish people’s values and destiny are being forged with every law passed and every social and economic policy decision taken.
On the left, there are groups that disdain the parade as a rah-rah event attended almost exclusively by right-wing groups. They note that it is especially galling to be celebrating Israel on June 5, the anniversary of the first day of Israel’s occupation of the territories. We understand the complexities and challenges, but we feel that the parade is an important opportunity for groups that often divide over Israel to come together in celebration. We want to celebrate Israel together with the rest of our community — we do not want to stand on the sidelines and only criticize. We believe that our presence there will demonstrate — both to the Jewish community and to the world — that love and support for Israel comes in many varieties.
We congratulate UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council for creating an opportunity for Jews of multiple political and religious perspectives to come together to celebrate Israel, each in our own way.
On June 5, we will be proud to join the parade, under the banner “Marching in tune with Israel’s values.” We celebrate Israel, and recommit ourselves to achieving our vision for Israel’s future as a secure, democratic, and peaceful homeland for the Jewish people.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. Rabbi David Rosenn is the chief operating officer of the New Israel Fund.