Despite an aggressive and widely distributed campaign of protest emails, only a cluster of demonstrators showed up to oppose the New York Israel Day Parade’s inclusion of several dovish groups among those marching June 3.
As they marched down Fifth Avenue, the targeted groups such as the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem USA and Partners for a Progressive Israel met few hecklers as they joined with some 200 separate contingents participating in the annual event.
The protestors, led by Americans For a Safe Israel and the JCC Watch, objected the inclusion of these groups by walking alongside them as they marched, replete with stacks of flyers.
Despite this, their impact on the parade was minimal.
“All I could see where a handful of protestors sprinkled throughout the crowd, all with the same sign,” said Bruce Temkin, NIF’s New York director.
In the weeks leading up to the parade, frequent email blasts from the JCC Watch and Americans For a Safe Israel appeared in the email inboxes of approximately 1,000 recipients. In addition to grassroots recipients, the emails were received by many Jewish communal officials and journalists and left some of the parade’s organizers feeling targeted. The emails branded the liberal and dovish groups as “anti-Israel extremists” due to their alleged connections with Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment activity.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a campaign launched by various non-governmental organizations that advocates an economic campaign against Israel to pressure the government to end its occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of many goods into and out of Gaza.
AFSI was founded in 1970 by Shmuel Katz, and is a volunteer advocacy organization committed to Israel’s right to rule the occupied territories. JCC Watch is a one-member organization that was recently founded by Richard Allen, a NYC businessman, in response to the Jewish Community Center of New York’s alleged connection with “anti-Israel” activity.
“This is not the way to be supportive of Israel,” said Helen Freedman, ASFI’s executive director. “We’re saying that groups, such as the New Israel Fund, that are actively out to damage, hurt, and destroy Israel can not be part of a celebration of Israel”
NIF, which funds liberal social and civil rights causes within Israel proper, and B’Tselem USA, which supports human rights monitoring of the conduct of Israeli security forces in the occupied territories, vociferously deny they support BDS. Partners for a Progressive Israel, a U.S. support group for dovish political parties in Israel, has endorsed a boycott limited to goods produced by Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
While parade registration guidelines have no explicit policies regarding BDS affiliation, JCRC’s parade director, Michael Mittelman, explicitly states that groups that endorse BDS are not permitted to be part of the parade.
When asked about their allowance of Partners for a Progressive Israel in the parade, Mittelman distinguished between organizations that endorse the boycott of products from Jewish settlements on the West Bank and products from Israel itself.
“We are not the first or only large Jewish organization to make these distinctions,” Mittelman said. “These are definitely tricky issues that we should debate and discuss in the community, but our sense is that there are values in putting that aside for the day.”
ASFI sees no distinction in this matter, and the right-wing groups’ emails called on the Jewish community to contact the parade’s sponsors, including UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, to voice their dissent and demand that these organizations be banned from the parade.
Mittelman acknowledged that the campaign generated many calls to his organization. But the decision to allow these groups to march in the parade was never re-assessed, he said.
“People did express concerns, and we were very respectful of those concerns,” said Mittelman.
Freedman felt as though the concerns voiced by her organization and its sympathizers were pushed aside and not dealt with appropriately.
A May 29 e-mail sent by AFSI called on supporters to watch for instructions about how to “counteract the vile messages of Israel’s enemies.” But the political drama was almost invisible among the sea of marchers proudly waving Israeli flags.
Meanwhile, some 40 new organizations marched with the parade this year, including Jewish Queer Youth, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The theme “Israel Branching Out” was represented through the trees, plants, and floral designs with which many floats and T-shirts were adorned.
“We just saw countless smiling faces, both in the parade and on the sidelines,” Mittelman said. “At the parade, one would hope that we would put our differences aside and come out with blue and white flags to celebrate what we have in common: Israel.”