Salute to Israel Parade 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Salute to Israel Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York has always held a
precious place in my heart. When I was in high school in the then farming town
of Colchester, Connecticut, we would gather in the early morning hours and board
buses headed to New York City. With many stops to pick up teens along the way,
the ride took four hours. In Manhattan waited a fascinating world I didn’t know
about in Colchester. Tens of thousands of teens like us, as well as adults, were
standing up for Israel. Some of my peers looked almost like soldiers in
martial movement uniforms. Other teens looked very sophisticated, wearing
embroidered Israeli blouses, twirling and debka dancing on float platforms,
screaming and hugging long-lost friends. It’s hard to evaluate the impact of
participation in the parade on my Zionist identity and decision to move to
Israel. Certainly, the parade provided an early taste of the sense of peoplehood
that I have savored living in Israel.
The germ of the Salute to Israel
Parade – renamed last year the “Celebrate Israel Parade” – was an impromptu walk
down Riverside Drive in support of the State of Israel in 1964. This evolved
quickly into the nonpartisan, apolitical Salute to Israel Parade. Today,
30,000 marchers representing many organizations participate. Hundreds of
thousands of spectators join in to support the State of Israel and to celebrate
its miraculous existence.
Even back when I was a teen, others were on
hand to point out the imperfections of the State of Israel to us marchers. Still
others to wish us every evil.
Last week, I received an e-mail invitation
to sign a petition relating to the parade. Before I read it, the despised
initials BDS caught my eye. What could the relationship of the nefarious
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement be to the Zionist march? As it turns
out, the petition was initiated by a group called Committee for a Pro-Israel
Parade. It urged the parade organizers – the Jewish Community Relations Council
– to boycott groups that were connected to other groups that promote
A FEW words about boycotts. Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel boycotts
have a long and inglorious history. Some may be unaware of the disaster to
families wrought by boycotts of Jewish goods and businesses organized by the Ku
Klux Klan. Before the Final Solution, on April 1, 1933, the Nazis carried out
the first nationwide planned action against Jews: a boycott targeting Jewish
businesses and professionals. That evil boycott was launched in a country
in which Jews made up 1 percent of the population and had earned 14 of Germany’s
38 Nobel prizes.
I'm not sure if my computer knows I’m particularly
interested in Jewish topics, but when I Google the words “boycott goods” with no
mention of “Jewish” or “Israeli,” I receive a mix of “boycott Israel goods” and
“boycott Jewish goods.” Not a single “boycott Syrian goods” pops
Anti-Jewish boycotts have always masqueraded behind ideological
pretensions. BDS is no different. The old and hollow “we’re not against Jews,
just Zionists” has yielded to “we’re not boycotting all Israelis, just certain
portions of the population.”
Previously proposed British academic and
medical association boycotts were aimed at all Israeli Jews. The latest boycott
in England against Israeli fruits and vegetables proffers the old libel of
stolen land and water, but according to today’s spin, it claims to discriminate
only against certain Israeli tomatoes. Look back at previous boycotts
against our sweet cherry tomatoes and persimmons, and you’ll find op-eds in
major London papers urging the ethically minded British to avoid Israeli produce
to punish the Jewish State where it hurts.
Anyone who has followed modern
Israeli history knows that all sectors and all parts of the country are targeted
by our enemies. Whether you are riding a bus on Dizengoff Street in Tel
Aviv, visiting the doctor in the Ashkelon mall or driving to a dance festival in
Shiloh, you may find yourself under attack. We’re all in this together,
no matter what our political opinions are. Likewise, wherever any Israeli stood
on the disengagement from Gaza, we know that our country alone has subjected its
own citizens to the trauma of forced transfer to try to bring about
All anti-Jewish and anti-Israel boycotts are despicable no matter
who is promoting them.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that far-left
organizations, or far-right for that matter, should be banished from the
pro-Israel marches, no matter how misguided each side finds the other’s views.
No group gets a monopoly on defining Zionism, or on setting the parameters of
the ideological make-up of the Jewish State. Among ourselves, we have so many
areas about which we passionately disagree, we’re lucky if we can get through an
extended family meal without an argument. In the heat of the battle, each
of us is scrambling to claim the moral high ground for our ideas. Without
polling opinions, we can be pretty sure that the vast majority of those
indifferent to or hostile to the State of Israel will not be spending their
Sunday marching down Fifth Avenue with blue-and-white flags.
recent surveys, the majority of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are proud to be
Israelis, despite the broad arc of opinions we hold. We need to welcome the same
diversity in ideas from abroad. Anyone who wishes – rain or shine – to march
down Fifth Avenue on June 3 and declare himself or herself a Zionist should be
allowed to. The Celebrate Israel Parade describes itself as the world’s largest
public gathering honoring the State of Israel. Wouldn’t it be great if 300,000
instead of 30,000 showed up – even if most of those marching don’t agree with
I was already living in Israel by the time I reconnected with the parade.
I’d gone for a semester to New York to study in the New School. I paid for the
room I’d rented in the home of an older Jewish lady with part-time jobs, one of
which was as a “parade consultant.” I visited synagogues to help organize
their marching delegations. Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations were
all taking part, overcoming the conflicts that divided them to stand up together
for Israel. On the day of the march, walking with my young charges, I
hoped that the experience would help them decide to choose a lifetime lined up
on the Zionist side of the street.
The author is a Jerusalem writer who
focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel
director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of
America. The views in her columns are her own.