For the 58th year, New York City will host the Celebrate Israel parade on Sunday (June 4) organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) and other supporting partners such as the UJA Federation and the Israeli Consulate in New York.
Approximately 40,000 are expected to attend the annual celebration which marches down New York’s iconic Fifth Avenue, including an unusually large delegation of Israeli government officials and members of the Knesset from the coalition and opposition. But not everyone is happy about it – even within the Jewish community.
This year, eight Israeli ministers will attend the festivities and an additional 10 members of Knesset, sparking harsh criticism from progressive Jewish organizations and Israelis, who plan to protest against their attendance due to the government's judicial overhaul legislation.
The Israeli officials attending include Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer, Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distal Atbaryan, Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Minister Amichai Chikli, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Tradition Minister Meir Porush, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu and Yoav Ben-Tzur, a minister in the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry. MK Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism Party and one of the chief architects of the planned judicial reform will also be in attendance.
The protests are planned by NYC for Democracy, an offshoot of the organization UnXeptable, composed of Israeli ex-pats living in the United States that coordinate overseas protests. This week, the group penned a letter to the JCRC-NY urging them to rescind invitations to Israeli officials and threatening to confront them if the JCRC-NY refuses. However, the JCRC-NY has stated that the government officials are not formally invited to attend, rather they decide independently whether or not to take part in the celebrations.
NYC for Democracy has also shared multiple “warnings” on their WhatsApp group. One message stated explicitly that their end goal was to show the Jewish community “that it is very unprofitable to invite those who destroy the economy, security, and future of the country.”
Also attending the protest activities will be 7 leaders of Democratic Israel for All, one of the protest movements in Israel, as well as liberal Jewish organizations such as Ameinu, who are taking part in the march itself, but with shirts of protest against the current Israeli government.
Shany Granot, the New York organizer of the protests against the Israeli government which have occurred for over 21 weeks straight, told Ynet, “What I'm trying to do is to let them know that whoever tries to take down Israeli democracy will not get a quiet vacation in New York. They shouldn't expect that because it won't happen. The protests are here as they are in Israel and as they are everywhere because Israelis and the Jewish community are everywhere, and we all care for Israeli democracy.”
Josh Drill, a spokesperson for the national protest movement in Israel, added, "The protests in New York send a clear message to the Israeli ministers visiting: their destructive actions against Israeli democracy won't go unchallenged…The Israeli national protest movement stands united with the brave New York activists in condemning all efforts that undermine our democratic values…"
Usually, protests of the Celebrate Israel parade take place from the anti-Israel groups or fringe Jewish groups Neturei Karta, but this year more Jewish progressive groups plan to protest in some capacity whether within the parade or outside the parade for more extreme groups.
For many, this unprecedented opposition to the Israeli government in a foreign country from the Jewish community is indicative of a crisis. Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, the executive board member of the World Zionist Organization, expressed concern over the politicization of the parade.
“There is a big dispute for the first time ever between those that are supporting, that are saying, ‘We shouldn't wash our laundry outside and we should keep supporting Israel no matter what, even though we fear what we see,’ and the other side that is very vocal and would say the fact that it's not only the biggest delegation, but that Simcha Rotman is one of them, that is seen as the cause of what’s going on.”
She continued, “We need to make sure to be very clear that it's not against the state of Israel. But it's very to the point of what is going on now… I can tell you for the first time, I'm really worried, not only from the distance of young liberals from the state of Israel but because of the attitude of the government of Israel towards the reform of conservative [movements]...But for the first time, Israelis are joining this in a way that was never, ever seen.”
While protests are certainly protected speech and support for the current Israeli government is by no means high, some are concerned about the methods of targeted harassment, especially at a time of unprecedented antisemitism in the United States.
Liora Rez, Executive Director of the watchdog group Stop Antisemitism, told Ynet, “American Jews understand and respect Israelis' eagerness to exercise their democratic rights and protest, but the protesters should be careful to speak out in a way that doesn’t destroy the parade for the 40,000 people who are there simply to celebrate Israel’s right to exist, which is sadly under threat thanks to antisemitic campaigns in the United States.”
Rez also added that it’s bizarre there would be an expectation to exclude Israeli government officials from an event celebrating the state of Israel, especially when it’s something that’s taken place every year.
"StopAntisemitism is puzzled by calls to exclude Israeli ministers from a parade celebrating Israel. Whether one shares their politics or not, they certainly belong at the parade."
In fact, Granot agrees with Rez, telling Ynet that she will take part in the parade itself along with many of her co-protesters, but with a message of opposition to the government.
“Zionism and the love of Israel do not belong to the far right-wing parties. It belongs to everybody. I'm the ninth generation in my family in Israel. My father fought in every war. They will not take this from me…My love for Israel is the reason I'm fighting for its democracy. It's the reason why I'm fighting for peace. It's the reason why I'm fighting for equality. So we will march inside the parade and we won't be like Neturei Karta and BDS groups,” says Granot, who explained that there are many protest factions and that many of them plan to take part in the parade itself.
As for concerns that the protests are “airing dirty laundry” of internal Israeli politics, Granot had a clear response: “We are the ones who show that there are Israelis that are fighting for democracy, that are liberal, that are Democrat, the Israelis that are not racist and are not fascist. So we are making the best name for Israel abroad. We are the best messengers and ambassadors for Israel, much more than the current government.”
In response to the planned protests, JCRC-NY has stated that they “welcome participants with different viewpoints and opinions to show their love for Israel and participate in the parade…a unique opportunity to walk together, literally and figuratively, up Fifth Avenue and celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary.”