New York City's pro-Israel parade this year was different - opinion

This year, there was a new and powerful reason to celebrate the Jewish state: for the first time in several decades, Israel has new peace partners in the Middle East. 

PARTICIPANTS AT the Celebrate Israel Parade include the author, the grand marshal of the event, at the front and center flanked by the governor of the State of New York Kathy Hochul to the immediate right and state Attorney-General Letitia James to the immediate left.  (photo credit: PERRY BINDELGLASS)
PARTICIPANTS AT the Celebrate Israel Parade include the author, the grand marshal of the event, at the front and center flanked by the governor of the State of New York Kathy Hochul to the immediate right and state Attorney-General Letitia James to the immediate left.
(photo credit: PERRY BINDELGLASS)

The streets of New York were overflowing on Sunday with tens of thousands of proud Americans and Israelis, celebrating the vibrant and diverse State of Israel. This year, there was a new and powerful reason to celebrate the Jewish state: for the first time in several decades, Israel has new peace partners in the Middle East. 

“Together Again,” the theme for this year’s Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Celebrate Israel Parade, marked the return of the popular event since it was halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pomp and circumstance contrasted starkly with the violent anti-Israel rally that took place on April 20 outside of the Israel Consulate, where a Jewish victim was brutally attacked by a known antisemite. 

This year, among the Israelis attending the parade were Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White), Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai (Labor), Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White), MK Ofir Akunis (Likud), Gilad Kariv (Labor), UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan (Likud) and the New York Consul General of Israel Asaf Zamir (Blue and White). 

American dignitaries included New York Governor Kathy Hochul, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY), Rep. A. Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Gerald Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), numerous members of state and local government, as well as rabbis and celebrities. 

The nearly 20-block-long parade down Fifth Avenue also featured floats and marching bands, cheered on by hundreds of thousands of spectators. 

Celebrate Israel parade 2022 in Manhattan ,New York, May 22, 2022. (credit: Shulamit Seidler-Feller, courtesy of UJA-Federation of New York)Celebrate Israel parade 2022 in Manhattan ,New York, May 22, 2022. (credit: Shulamit Seidler-Feller, courtesy of UJA-Federation of New York)

What distinguished this year’s parade from all others is that Israel now counts the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan among its peace partners in the Arab world. 

No one dared to envision a day where supporters of Israel would celebrate the Jewish state in the streets of New York City amid a flurry of peace in the region like we are seeing right now. But the time has finally come, and I was incredibly honored to serve as the parade’s Grand Marshal during this inflection point in the Middle East. 

Why was this year different than all other years?

SO WHY now? What happened to bring about this unprecedented event this year? 

In September 2020, the Abraham Accords normalized relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The pact ushered in an era of Israeli-Arab cooperation across countless sectors. 

In the short time since the accords were adopted, an intractable history of conflict is rapidly being replaced by diplomatic and economic cooperation. Unlike the “cold peace” Israel has endured for decades since signing treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the Abraham Accords have real potential to deliver a lasting partnership between the former adversaries. 

In fact, it has already proven true in many ways: bilateral trade between the UAE and Israel reached more than $1 billion last year, and a free trade agreement was recently finalized.  Morocco signed a defense Memorandum of Understanding with Israel, becoming the first Arab nation to openly do so. Bahrain and the Jewish state have agreed to various economic pacts in the areas of finance, aviation, water and technology.  

Meanwhile, a Holocaust exhibit opened in Dubai and mutual embassies have been opened and ambassadors exchanged with the UAE. 

But the greatest outcomes of the Abraham Accords cannot be measured in imports and exports, new airline routes, defense agreements, the exchanges of diplomats, or mutual recognition of histories. The best results of peace and normalization are truly measured in the level of warmth between Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East, as divergent politics are replaced by convergent peoplehood. 

Much work remains, especially when it comes to pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Named in honor of a truly legendary New York congresswoman, the bipartisan Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act established a fund managed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that dedicates $250 million over five years to building peaceful coexistence between the sides. 

This marks the largest-ever investment by the US government in strengthening people-to-people relations between Israel and the Palestinians.  

This year, in the greatest city in the world, Americans and Israelis proudly celebrated Israel in this new and exciting era.

If peace continues to spread across the Middle East, then perhaps next year the Grand Marshal will preside over the parade at a time when Israel counts even more Arab nations as friends. Israel and the Arab world, with the strong support of the US, must continue building upon the current momentum to construct bridges of peace and connection for all the descendants of Abraham. 

The writer is a Partnership for Peace Fund board member and was the 2022 Grand Marshal of the Celebrate Israel Parade.