Politics aside

N.Y.’s Celebrate Israel Parade will be ‘noisy and chaotic’ but major disruptions unexpected, organizer says

While protesters are preparing major demonstrations everywhere they find members of the government, they plan to march in the parade itself

This Sunday’s Celebrate Israel Parade will be “noisy and chaotic” in light of the current debates happening in and about Israel, its principal organizer predicted, but will intentionally focus on that which unites the participants rather than the contentious issues that divide them.

“It will probably be noisy and chaotic, But then again, the Jewish people are noisy and chaotic, and Israel is noisy and chaotic. So we’re just encouraging people to be there, to participate, and to come together and walk together,” Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“We appreciate that many people in Israel and around the world continue to passionately protest with deeply held views concerning the future directions of Israel. We welcome participants with different viewpoints and opinions to show their love for Israel and participate in the parade,” Taylor said.

Organizers anticipated this would be the largest Celebrate Israel Parade in the event’s 58-year history, with tens of thousands of participants. To illustrate this, Taylor noted that in previous years, there would be two buses of participants coming from Long Island to take part in the parade. “This year, there’s seven buses coming from Long Island. That’s a sign of the desire and pent-up demand to be on the streets, to be there showing support for Israel, even in these difficult and complicated times,” Taylor said.

In addition to the regularly scheduled march down 5th Ave., this year the parade will also feature a “block festival” on 63rd and Madison Ave., where there will be food and activities for kids, he said.

The annual parade, which marches down New York’s iconic 5th Avenue, is always a massive logistical undertaking, requiring nine months of preparations and consultations with the mayor’s office, NYPD and other local government bodies. This year’s event came with additional political considerations in light of ongoing protests in Israel and worldwide over the Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul, said Taylor.

According to Israeli media, up to 14 coalition members have indicated they planned to participate in the parade: Religious Zionism Knesset Member Simcha Rothman, one of the architects of the judicial reform proposals; Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli; Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer; Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat; Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Minister Meir Porush; Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan; Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, Jerusalem Minister Meir Porush; Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur of Shas; along with Religious Zionism MKs Michal Woldiger and Ohad Tal, Likud MK Shalom Danino, and United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus.

Four opposition MKs were also slated to attend: Yisrael Beytenu’s Sharon Nir and Evgeny Sova; National Unity MK Orit Farkash-Hacohen; and Yesh Atid MK Vladimir Beliak.

The appearance of all 18 politicians at the event has yet to be confirmed. The record-high number of government participants reportedly led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to encourage some ministers and MKs to reconsider their appearance at the event. 

In recent months, expat Israelis and concerned American Jews have taken to protesting anywhere that Israeli ministers and Knesset members from the governing coalition have appeared in the U.S., raising questions if similar demonstrations would be held alongside Sunday’s parade, in addition to the protests against Israel that are often organized by pro-Palestinian demonstrators and members of Neturei Karta. 

“I’m sure there will be people protesting all issues related to and unrelated to Israel and the Middle East and I’m sure this year will be no exception. But I think ultimately I think what we’ll see on the streets is 40,000 marchers, from schools and synagogues and youth groups. There will be Jewish bikers, a float with Holocaust survivors, marchers from the LGBTQ community – people from all parts of the Jewish community,” Taylor said.

In addition to protests of the parade from the outside, organizers also looked to ensure that those groups and individuals marching in the parade maintained the “tone and spirit” of the event, Taylor said. All participants signed an agreement affirming that they recognized that the parade was “a celebration of Israel,” and not a demonstration against the government, he noted.

At least one organization, the Labor Zionist movement’s Ameinu, has said that it plans to include a demonstration in its march, giving its marchers t-shirts emblazoned with the slogans “Zionism Equals Democracy” on the front and “Marching for Democracy” on the back, the group said. This will be the first time that Ameinu has participated in the parade in more than a decade.

“We will remind other participants and those watching the parade that we are marching in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world who are fighting for the future of the State,” the organization wrote on its website.

Shany Granot-Lubaton, an Israeli citizen currently studying in New York who has emerged as a leader of the protest movement in the U.S., said members of her organization – known as UnXeptable – will not be protesting against the parade but will be taking part in it, marching with Ameinu and participating in the organization’s approved demonstration.

“We don’t — heaven forbid — support the ministers [who will be attending], but we’re not giving up on celebrating Israel. It’s ours as much as it is theirs,” she said.

“This is the first time that real Israelis will be marching in such large numbers,” Granot-Lubaton said. “There will be hundreds of us, we will be the second-largest group after Yeshiva University.”

Granot-Lubaton said that while she could not speak for all protesters, members of her organization would “respect the rules of the parade.” Separate from the parade, however, her organization was tracking the Israeli politicians whereabouts and planned to protest anywhere the 14 coalition members appeared – their hotels, parks, restaurants or scheduled events – and have already begun doing so.

Taylor said that in light of the current “difficult and complicated times,” the JCRC and organizers have worked to make it clear that the parade is a big tent event. Israeli President Isaac Herzog was asked to release a video message ahead of the parade, in which he stressed that “our beauty and our strength lie in our many different stripes and shades and voices.” A group of 15 rabbis of different denominations also penned a letter about the importance of the parade, as did two Israeli MKs – one from the opposition, Yesh Atid’s Beliak, and one from the coalition, Likud’s Danino.

“This is an opportunity to be together, with this wide diversity of a complex Jewish community and friends of the Jewish community,” Taylor said. “And, with pride, to march on the most iconic street in the world, and to come together with people from different perspectives – left-wing, right-wing, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform – to be there to support Israel. And that’s why ultimately the parade is so important.”