NEW YORK – More than 35,000 people marched up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday morning in the 50th annual Celebrate Israel Parade, which drew thousands of onlookers.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and city comptroller Scott Stringer joined Israel’s consul-general in New York, Ido Aharoni; American-born MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid); and Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver in marching along with other high-profile members of the American Jewish community and thousands of adults, schoolchildren and college students from New York, New Jersey, Israel and Massachusetts, all waving Israeli flags and wearing brightly colored tee shirts representing their organizations.
“I enjoy these parades,” Cuomo told reporters. “They remind New Yorkers how lucky we are to live in New York, how diverse and mixed we are and how proud we are of that.
“The Jewish community is very important to us in New York,” he continued. “They’re a very large community, a community that we’ve all grown up with. They’re our mishpucha [family]. And Israel is also a very important ally to this country. It’s not just as New Yorkers that Israel is a big part of our lives, but as Americans as well.”
Aharoni said he felt honored to be participating in this “one-of-a-kind” event. “With 40,000 people marching and thousands watching, and the participation of Gov. Guomo and Mayor de Blasio, I’m honored to be accepting the love of New York on behalf of Israel.”
De Blasio personally greeted Aharoni and Lipman during the parade but did not speak to reporters.
John Ruskay, CEO and executive vice president of UJA - Federation of New York, said in a statement that this was not a day for politics.
“For 50 years, tens of thousands – Jews and non-Jews, young and old, led by New York City public officials – have marched up Fifth Avenue expressing their love for, and commitment to, the people and State of Israel. One day each year we put differences aside and come together to make clear: We stand with the people of Israel as they resist violence and in their pursuit of peace. That’s what the parade is about each year.”
Despite Ruskay’s words of unity, a gaggle of a few dozen anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions protesters gathered on the side of the road among the onlookers to demonstrate against the participation of the New Israel Fund and several other groups that have become controversial in the past few months leading up to the parade for what is perceived by some to be a pro-BDS stance.
The debate over their participation even caused MK Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) to weigh in and take a stand against NIF’s participation.
Yisrael Medad of the Menachem Begin Center in the Jerusalem posted on his Facebook page on Sunday morning that he would be joining the anti-NIF protesters.
“It’s a shame that the parade management has let these groups in,” Richard Allen, the head of JCC Watch, told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the parade. JCC Watch has been spearheading the effort to exclude the NIF and related groups. “These groups are looking to destroy Israel through BDS and it’s really shameful that the parade management has koshered them.”
But Stephanie Ives, the director of the NIF in the tri-state area, said that marching in the parade felt “appropriate.”
This is the fourth year NIF has marched in the Celebrate Israel Parade, and every so often there is some controversy stirred up over its participation, Ives said. This was just one of those years.
“We’ve faced some very vocal opposition, but we’ve seen so much support from the institutions,” Ives said. “Really, the story shouldn’t be about what’s happening in New York. The story should be about the work that we’re doing on the ground in Israel.”
There was minimal interaction between the protesters and the marchers when NIF’s volunteers marched by.
Other high-profile parade participants included New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Queens borough president Melinda Katz; Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor; Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon; Knesset members Hilik Bar (Labor), Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), Zvulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi), Elazar Stern (Hatnua) and Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas).
The parade this year featured the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL.