Opinion: Saluting Israel

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This Sunday, New York will celebrate 64 years since Israel declared its independence by hosting what has become an institution for 48 years. The largest gathering of Jews outside of Israel to commemorate and celebrate the forming of the Jewish State is the Israel Day Parade which has in the past been arranged by the Israel Tribute Committee with respect and dignity. June 3rd, however, will mark a new era for the parade and for those who support Israel. Not only will school groups, Jewish organizations, temples, synagogues, Zionistic artists and the like be proudly proclaiming their love for Israel, but this year’s parade will have the distinction of finally becoming a true paragon of diversity, by having people who actively work to undermine Israel march, too.

When I served on the Israel Tribute Committee’s board for several years between 2002 and 2009, my fellow members and I used to argue over themes, color schemes and logo designs. We sometimes fought over whether a band or an act was too parochial, too secular or too awful, but we always agreed that no matter what we chose, it would highlight the very best of Israel and those who wish her well every day and on parade day in particular.

Jews for Jesus wanted to march, and we believed that they probably really do love Israel for many of the same symbolic reasons that the mainstream Jewish community did, with some differing ideologies that this article will not delve into. Yet, we also believed that we had to decline the request because it may cause the parade to take a tone that none of us felt was what the day called for.

We never once disagreed on the one fact of the parade - that it was a demonstration that would send ripples across the political and even global spectrums by showing the stunning and overwhelming support Americans had for Israel. The parade would send a message to anyone who doubted America’s resolve in its ally, that Israel had a true friend in the United States, filled with hundreds of thousands and, even over one million strong some years, of people willing to march up the avenue or cheer on the sidelines, in heat, cold, rain and every other climate.

The parade has since been consumed by a larger organization, one that used to have just a vote or two on the Board, but which now controls the whole agenda. Agenda is the operative word here, because there is no other way to describe it. The Jewish Community Relations Council, funded largely by the UJA-Federation, now controls the parade. The parade is no longer referred to as a Salute to Israel, but it is now the expansive Celebrate Israel Parade, so many more people can now march under this undefined moniker.

Now, Jews for Jesus may as well be invited to march – they at least are happy missionaries who love Israel. Also, the clown of a man, Yisroel Dovid Weiss and his Zion hating lemmings who proudly stand with, hug, kiss and present gifts to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s lunatic president, as he denies the Holocaust and declares his intent to kill Jews and demolish Israel.

Weiss loves Israel – the land and biblical symbols that is, but not the modern State or Zionism. So he and his Neturei Karta should be invited this year alongside their radicalized Islamic strange bedfellow brothers across from the Plaza Hotel to not merely stand on the sidelines and declare God’s wrath and death to Jews in Israel, but to celebrate the version of Israel they love.

This year, the parade should be open to Hamas and Hezbullah, as they too wish to celebrate the land Israel exists over. They may call it Palestine, and they hate the Jewish presence and even the name Israel, but they so love and want to celebrate on all of its land.

Oddly enough, these groups are not yet included. Maybe they were unaware of the open enrollment period that the New Israel Fund, a group that financed the effort to convince the Norwegian government pension fund to divest from Israel, knew about. Meretz USA, which urges a boycott of Israeli products, including Ahava cosmetics, and the group B'tselem, whose chairman publicly calls for "Effective Sanctions" against Israel, were also given marching privileges by UJA this year.

Richard Allen, founder of JCCWatch.org has been promoting the effort to rally at the parade against these groups. He said, “It is not surprising that the UJA-Federation is pushing these bash Israel groups to march in the parade. John Ruskay, UJA’s head, worked one of the first political bash Israel groups called “CONAME” (Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East).”

Allen said that he and a committee he helped form to “give the parade back to the people who want to see a thriving Israel” are working hard to get the message out.

"We have an open call for all friends of Israel to attend the Israel Day Parade and give out a loud Bronx cheer to New Israel Fund, Meretz USA and B'Tselem as they march by. There should be no room at the Israel Day Parade for those groups that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel,” Allen said.

It would be a very different parade if the Neturei Karta and Hamas marched, and even if missionaries did, too. The message, the spirit, and the reason the event begun in 1964 to salute will all be lost. In its own words on its website, the parade states its purpose being to “enable the tri-state community to celebrate in a non-partisan, apolitical show of unity with Israel.” Maybe unity means something else to the UJA, but it is still defined as harmony to most.

People should come out in the largest numbers ever this year to both unite against those who would work so hard to see Israel fail and to show the Jewish organization that seems to have lost sight of its mission that those who truly love Israel will no longer stand for the dilution of its hopes. Israel and the Israelis who keep it alive should be saluted.

Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5WPR

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