Don't Ban Us From the Celebrate Israel Parade

New Israel Fund Leader Says Inclusion Is Important

Let Us In: If New Israel Fund is excluded, the parade will only become more of a right-wing echo chamber.
Getty Images
Let Us In: If New Israel Fund is excluded, the parade will only become more of a right-wing echo chamber.

By Daniel Sokatch

Published May 30, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Conservative Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, a frequent critic of the New Israel Fund and progressives in general, recently wrote about the manufactured controversy regarding NIF’s participation in the Celebrate Israel parade on Sunday. Acknowledging that we do not in fact support global BDS, the lie that’s been told to justify our exclusion, he wrote that we should participate in the parade, because we are irritating but legitimate.

I love that. I can picture hundreds of liberal Zionists marching down Park Avenue in T-shirts reading Irritating But Legitimate. Kudos to Yemini for realizing that, despite our ideological disagreements with him on serious matters, we and other progressive organizations represent a respected and important stream of the community both here in the United States and in Israel itself.

Not everyone agrees. The denial of membership by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations to J Street barred the way to the fastest-growing Jewish organization in recent history. Since J Street appeals particularly to the young people that Jewish establishment organizations like the ones in the Conference bemoan losing, J Street’s rejection is both self-defeating and sadly ironic.

But not all that surprising. We progressive supporters of Israel are not naïve. We understand that some in our community believe that any criticism of Israeli policy amounts to “airing dirty laundry” or aiding and abetting Israel’s enemies. We respectfully disagree. We believe that loving rebuke, tochechah in the Jewish tradition, is a necessary part of being in a healthy relationship, whether with a person or a country.

So it is that the millions of Israelis and the majority of American Jews who want a peaceful, democratic, just Israel are too frequently overridden and told there is no place for us, by a well-organized, well-funded faction that represents a relatively small part of our community.

That may be because the people of that faction, the ones who frantically deny that one can love Israel and oppose the current government’s policies, are feeling increasingly defensive. There’s a U.S. Secretary of State who signaled that Israel’s future is at risk from the continuing occupation. There are European leaders figuring out how to label or prohibit the sale of settlement products. There are an increasing number of so-called “price-tag” attacks by vigilante settlers exemplifying an ugly racism for all the world to see. And there are millions of ordinary Israelis who realize that social justice as well as greater religious freedom and ordinary democratic rights are being compromised by ultra-nationalists’ intransigence.

The next test of that intransigence in Israel will come soon, as the Knesset returns to session and considers the “Jewish statehood” bill, which I fear will come to be known as the “Jewish-trumps-democratic” legislation. This bill, advanced by the right wing in different iterations, attempts to solve a problem that does not exist, that of Israel’s Jewish identity.

For 67 years, the world has known Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Love it or hate it, support it or oppose it, no one denies that Israel is what it is, the place where the Jewish people achieve self-determination. If this new Basic Law is enacted, it risks resolving the creative tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature in favor of the former. The intent of the bill’s sponsors is clear: define the state not as the impartial arbiter of citizens’ rights, but as the property of its majority population. If they succeed, discrimination against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens and the use of Jewish religious law as a means to overturn democratic process will have legal validity.

Fortunately, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the center-left parties oppose the bill. It may not go anywhere. But as a signal from the ultranationalist right that the attempts to de-democratize Israel will continue, it is a somber warning sign.

Our conclusion is that we may well be at a crossroads. Many progressive and centrist leaders are thinking anew about the way forward, in Israel and in the Jewish community worldwide. Some look for alternative institutions to outdated power structures, others will continue to rally grassroots support for a liberal, democratic Israel seeking an end to the conflict.

We at NIF are going to expand on what we’ve done for the last 35 years. We are going to continue working to build a better Israel and oppose the continued assault on democratic values. Having successfully built and protected progressive civil society in Israel, we recognize that additional strategies are called for. We will work with our allies to create new initiatives to super-charge and rebuild the pro-democracy camp. We’ll provide democratic activists and organizations with new tools that will enable them to push back against both the ultra-nationalist lobby and the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy. And we will support those Israelis who, every day, work to realize the dream of Israel’s founders.

We know from our own research that a majority of the determinedly liberal American Jewish community supports our work and our viewpoint. We also know that many more Israelis than you’d think support progressive values. In the coming months, we will look towards a commitment to the kind of long-term social change that is difficult, slow and yes, sometimes irritating. We are in it for Israel, and we are in it for the long haul. If it takes us another 35 years.

Daniel Sokatch is the CEO of the New Israel Fund.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.