By Larry Gordon
It is as if every discussion about Israel and Jews revolves around crisis, problems, emergencies, and potential disasters. There is so much good and excitement emanating from Israel today, but it seems to be naturally obscured by our communal proclivity to being drawn to the difficult and challenging situations that we seem to confront at every turn.
Israel’s booming high-tech industry, its uncanny and unprecedented successful startups, its medical research, and its humanitarianism that stretches around the world are simply an aberration or a flash in the pan. These things are satisfying and even comforting, but we are always somehow naturally forced to direct our attention and energies to the real everyday Israel—that is, the one with all the big problems.
The point was made by Israel’s consul-general, Ido Aharoni, on Sunday, April 6, at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. His point was that Israel’s image suffers significantly because we fall into the trap of paying scant attention to all that is good, and we seem most comfortable wallowing in all the misery that the country seems to attract.
As an example of this unnecessary way of functioning, consider the upcoming Celebrate Israel Parade that is scheduled to take place on June 1 on Fifth Avenue in New York. Parades of this nature are supposed to be dedicated to celebration and even frivolity that surround the success of one’s culture or national homeland.
There is the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Columbus Day parade, the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Dominican Day parade, along with several others that march up or down Fifth Avenue with great merriment and verve without so much as a syllable of protest uttered or reported upon.
But not so with Israel. Aside from the usual insignificant street demonstrations by Arab groups and extreme right-wing chassidic groups like Neturei Karta, this year there is a debate raging about who is marching and who is not marching because some other group is. The Celebrate Israel Parade, or the Salute to Israel Parade, as it was once known, is now becoming a platform for a tug-of-war over who is and is not pro-Israel and therefore either belongs or does not belong as a participant in the event.
Before we can clearly identify who is or is not pro-Israel, we probably have to take a step back and try to define what it means in this day of Barack Obama’s “unshakable bond” that exists between the U.S. and Israel—what the precise definition of that term is and what it means exactly.
We are living in a time when it is perfectly acceptable to work on making certain that Israel is more vulnerable and isolated and to claim that you are doing so for Israel’s own benefit. It is perhaps an extreme characterization, but the thought process goes something like this—if Israel did not exist, then she could not be destroyed. So working toward a smaller and weaker Israel, whether militarily or through economic sanctions is, one can claim today, really for the state of Israel’s own benefit.
What is even more shocking than that theory itself is that there are mainstream supporters of Israel who feel that even though there are groups that work relentlessly at weakening Israel, their positions are legitimate and they deserve a place in the broad spectrum of groups, organizations, or movements involved in one way or another in the vitality of the Jewish state.
And therein lies the Jewish community’s new crisis: that is, whether to include or exclude organizations and groups that plainly mean Israel harm and to try to twist or otherwise rationalize their attitudes toward Israel by accepting their claims of really supporting the Jewish state, though we know in our hearts and minds that the opposite is the reality.
To support this thought process, one need only look to the Israeli Knesset for a model of a twisted sort of diversity that allows Israel’s critics to claim that they, by contrast, are being targeted for exclusion from the parade. In the Knesset, the Meretz Party features policies that utterly contradict the safety and security of Israel’s citizens. Then there are the 11 Arab members among the 120-person Knesset. Those who are quite taken aback by Israel’s open democracy point out that even when there were considerable Jewish communities in Arab countries, it was against the law for a Jew to be a part of their governments or parliaments.
And the Arab parties do not protest nor do they object to their stated policy of undermining the Jewish state and replacing it with the 23rd Arab country in the region—Palestine.
So, groups like “Partners for a Progressive Israel,” which lists Israeli products to boycott on its website; the New Israel Fund, a “BDS” (boycott, divestment, sanctions) proponent that has been supporting boycotts of Israel and has reportedly been encouraging Arab riots; and B’Tselem, whose members have taken part in Arab riots, are all currently scheduled to march in the June 1 parade under their own banners.
The Israel Day Parade, though, is not the Knesset. The parade is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and UJA/Federation. Both are large umbrella organizations charged with looking after the welfare of the American Jewish community as well as Jews in Israel and around the world. Demonstrating one’s generosity by allowing one’s enemies in is not a good idea. It is said of a person who had such an open mind that his brain fell out. That is what we are dealing with here.
It is clear that the pro-BDS groups do not belong in the parade, because they support the dismantling and destruction of Israel as we know it. Both the JCRC and the UJA would need great courage, though, to exclude those groups. And that is because a significant percentage of their constituency, while perhaps not subscribing to the specifics of what the BDS groups stand for, nevertheless support, in an irresponsible and damaging way, these groups’ rights to express themselves. And they should be allowed to do that, but not in the Israel Day Parade.
In protest, a number of schools, organizations, and synagogues have already announced that if the BDS folks are marching, then they are going to sit this one out. The JCRC and the UJA are beginning to feel the heat and will be holding a series of meetings in the coming week and arrive at a decision.
What this all stems from is more than a half-century of Jews’ being guilt-ridden about not just surviving but indeed flourishing. Demonstrating this kind of internal doubt about our existence allows others to pick up the theme, reinterpret it, and then apply it to us very generously. This is one reason why Secretary of State John Kerry was able to nonchalantly tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that, oh, the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was Israel’s fault, even though the Palestinians abrogated one of the fundamental premises of the process.
This year, to counter that persistent doubt and downward momentum that so many in Israel and in the American Jewish community subscribe to, for the first time the parade will feature representation from Judea and Samaria, areas of Israel heretofore not acknowledged at these annual festivities.
This year there will be a float from Friends of Hebron, the One Israel Fund, and a conglomerate float representing Judea and Samaria. That’s a big step in a middle-of-the-road effort that the parade tries to be, you know, a Jewish event that doesn’t offend anyone.
So are the BDS groups a counterbalance to the Judea and Samaria floats? Some will no doubt argue that they are. But that apposition is way off the mark. The parade is a tribute to Israel and the American supporters of the state. There is no place for those who want to besmirch the name of Jews the world over and contribute to delegitimizing and dismantling Israel.
The parade organizers need some gumption and fortitude to stand up and tell it the way it is. It is not news that so-called anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. In an event whose objective is celebrating Israel’s great accomplishments and achievements, there is no place for those who hate and seek to damage. Those who seek to isolate Israel with boycotts and sanctions need to be boycotted and disinvited from this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.