This is how a few hundred Israelis or Israeli-Americans tried to ruin a beautiful American Jewish tradition, but also how they failed by causing antagonism towards them.
40,000 American Jews, mainly children, youth and families, have taken to the streets in honor of Israel as they have been doing for decades. They didn’t all agree with this current Israeli government, but they, as always, came out with their flags, their shirts and beautiful floats, celebrating the only Jewish State in the universe.
The Celebrate Israel Parade is a tradition that dates back to 1965, when tens-of-thousands of people came together to express their love and support for the State of Israel. It is a festive and joyful event that showcases the diversity and unity of the Jewish community in New York and beyond. It is also a powerful display of solidarity with Israel, especially in times of crisis and challenge.
This year, however, the parade was marred by no more than two-hundred protesters who decided to use this occasion to vent their anger and frustration at some of the Israeli ministers and the Members of Knesset (MKs) who were marching in the parade. These protesters, who claimed to be part of a group called “Save Israel, Stop the Overhaul”, shouted insults and slogans at the ministers, accusing them of betraying Israel’s democracy and security by supporting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan for a reform to the country’s political system. Many of them cursed, spoke in a very negative way and promoted hate, during an event that is supposed to promote unity.
While marching with the MK’s and the ministers, in the delegation of the State of Israel, through 20 blocks, there was a small but vocal group that followed the Israeli elected officials and yelled “shame.” There were also those who demonstrated peacefully, but they were the minority of the protesters. American Jewish leaders from all backgrounds urged the demonstrators movements to leave the parade alone and not to demonstrate.
The protesters’ behavior was disrespectful, disruptive and divisive. They violated the spirit and the sanctity of the parade, which is meant to celebrate Israel’s achievements and aspirations, not to criticize its policies or leaders. They also alienated and offended many of the parade participants and spectators, who came to show their support for Israel, not to witness a political dispute.
Protesters picked the wrong time and place
The protesters have every right to express their opinions and dissent, but they chose the wrong time and place to do so. The Celebrate Israel Parade is not a platform for political activism or propaganda, but a celebration of Israel’s existence and resilience. By disrupting the parade, the protesters did not only disrespect the Israeli ministers, but also the millions of Jews and non-Jews who love and support Israel.
As happened at other American Jewish events, when protesters wouldn’t let a right-wing MK speak, because of Israeli protesters who wouldn’t let him speak, many American Jews have less support for this movement of anti-judicial-reform Israelis, even if they themselves are also against this political move in Israel.
These Israelis, who either live in the US or are visiting here, don’t get the sanctity and the beautiful gesture of Jews towards their historic homeland. As immigrants to the US, they don’t understand that there are certain things that are a gesture of innocent and pure love for Israel - something that defines American Judaism and American Zionism. Israeli demonstrators cannot and should not try to force inner Israeli politics on American Jewish legacy traditions.
The protesters should apologize for their actions and refrain from repeating them in the future. They should also respect the diversity of opinions and perspectives within the Jewish community and recognize that supporting Israel does not mean agreeing with everything it does. The Celebrate Israel Parade is a rare opportunity to put aside our differences and focus on our common bond with Israel. Let us not waste it by letting a few protesters ruin it for everyone.