The annual Celebrate Israel parade, the largest of its kind anywhere, is intended to unify our community under the umbrella of pride in the Jewish state and send that message to Israel and the world. But life is not simple, certainly not Jewish life, and the fissures that create tensions within our community over Israel have come to the surface once again in the weeks leading up to parade, which this year will mark its 50th anniversary and be held in midtown on Sunday, June 1. (See story on page 16.)
In keeping with the old saw that “no good deed goes unpunished,” the leaders of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC), primary sponsor of the parade, and UJA-Federation of New York, its primary funder, have come under fire from a small group of critics who falsely claim that supporters of BDS (boycott, divestments and sanctions against Israel) are being permitted to march. That claim is made by conflating those who oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state and those who see themselves as Zionists but oppose the West Bank settlements and the purchase of goods produced there on moral and/or security grounds.
Critics include JCC Watch, Americans for a Safe Israel, American Friends of Likud, the Zionist Organization of America and Rabbi Elie Abadie of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Manhattan.
The JCRC, in a statement this week, asserted that it “carries the profound responsibility to bring together the widest possible spectrum of supporters of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” for an event that is celebratory, not political. While the JCRC notes that it “strongly disagrees” with those who support boycotting West Bank products, it affirms that they meet the criteria for inclusion in the parade, which is apolitical in its signs and slogans.
The effect of the small group of mischief-makers, who seek to exclude rather than include, is to undermine the celebration of the Israel they proclaim to love, and to sow dissonance and disagreement in a community that often feels sufficiently embattled already from outside enemies.
Particularly offensive is a JCC Watch flyer promoting a rally set for this past Tuesday in front of UJA-Federation headquarters, and urging the public to “say no to BDS groups” at the parade. It features a 1933 photo of Nazi storm troopers putting up a sign on a Berlin store that says, in German, “Do not buy from Jews.”
The JCC Watch tagline proclaims: “It starts with boycotts.”
The attempt to compare critics of Israel’s settlements policy with the Nazis is outrageous at best.
One of the threads that bind Jews together is a sense of peoplehood and collectivity, and a commitment to maintain the survival and growth of Jewish life. Yet those who call for disruption of the parade, claiming that enemies of Israel are being allowed to march, drive a wedge between groups who share a love for Israel, though they may express it in passionately differing political ways.
Notable figures like author Amos Oz and entertainer Theodore Bikel — not to mention a large percentage of Israelis who serve and protect the Jewish state — would be banned from marching by those who proclaim that if you don’t love all of Israel, including the West Bank settlements, you are anti-Israel.
What we need, as a people, is more reasons to come together, including opportunities to discuss these complex issues with civility. What the critics insist on, though, is the limited path to supporting Israel their way — or be marginalized and dismissed as an outsider, or enemy.
The Book of Ecclesiastes says there is “a season for everything,” including “a time for tearing down and a time for building up.” This June 1 should be a day set aside for “building up.”
By all means let us debate Israeli politics and security throughout the year. But for that one day we should put aside our differences to rejoice together in the miracle of a Jewish state in our lifetime.
Am Yisrael chai.