I am an Israeli, living in New York for 25 years, and this year is the first time I plan to march in the Israel Day Parade. The parade will take place on Sunday, June 4, and over 40,000 people are expected to march up Fifth Avenue with music and floats.
You may wonder why I have never participated in this event. It is a strange thing to be an immigrant, living in a country that you belong to and yet still feel like an outsider. My daughters have always loved the parade and march with their Jewish day school, along with many other schools, JCCs and synagogues from the tri-state area. They proudly wear the parade t-shirts and enthusiastically sing Jewish-American-Israeli songs. When they were younger, I would drop them off at the starting point and watch the floats and flags, feeling sad and far from home and the real Israel that was being celebrated.
Perhaps it is the difference between reality and an aspiration. The parade celebrates an ideal Israel, one without social inequalities and religious intolerance, one in which you can marvel at the genius of cherry tomatoes and celebrate the Start-Up Nation without thinking about poverty, crime, and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank.
As an Israeli and American, I sometimes feel a bit out of place in both cultures. I lost my Israeli edge that once allowed me to cut the line, but I am also too Israeli to join in American sing-alongs or discuss football.
The discrepancy between the idealized Israel as celebrated by American Jews and the reality of the State of Israel has been on stark display since the election of the new hard right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu in December 2022. For the last 21 weeks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been demonstrating every Saturday night to support democracy and resist the proposed laws which would undermine the Israeli Supreme Court’s independence and compromise the separation of powers so vital to the protection of civil rights and freedoms. Despite this severe threat, the Jewish community in the United States, which strongly embraces Israel, has remained silent.
I realize that the Israeli parliamentary system, with its fragile coalitions and many parties, is hard to understand for many Americans. It is very different from the American system in which we elect multiple representatives for different branches of government. But to understand the threat to democracy, it is only necessary to appreciate that parliament is controlled by the government and the only check on the power of the government are the courts, and specifically the Supreme Court.
The relationship between American Jews and Israel has been strong yet imbalanced. While Israelis are proud to promote the Zionist project, Jews in the United States have supported Israel without similarly celebrating their own communal achievements in academia, art, finance, and politics.
It is now time for the American Jewish community to speak up about the things we hold dear. Most American Jews care about democracy, human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, separation of church and state, religious rights, anti-racism, voting rights, and welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. The American Jewish community has created many organizations and a robust philanthropic culture to support these commitments. It is time to speak up for these Jewish American values proudly and to inspire Jews in Israel with these ideals just as American Jews have been inspired by theirs.
Why am I marching this year in the Israel parade?
I am marching because for the first time I feel I must speak up as an Israeli and American. I will march with a group to support democracy and the separation of powers in Israel. We have been protesting every Sunday and this is an opportunity to respectfully voice our deep concern to a larger audience and the media.
I understand that marching in the parade is not without risks. This year, 16 Israeli Knesset members and ministers, a record number, will be among the marchers. They represent extreme right parties that are not ashamed of their racism and homophobia. Their dreams for Israel are my nightmare. But although the parade is not a free speech town square, the organizers of the US protest for Israeli democracy, together with Ameinu–a liberal Zionist organization–have obtained permission to march, and we will be wearing blue shirts and chanting De-Mo-Crat-Ya, the unmistakable chant against the judicial overhauls promoted by this government.
I am marching because I love Israel. And I am marching because I believe in the American values of democracy and equality. I am marching because the real Israel is in danger of a horrible self-inflicted tragedy which will hurt its democracy, financial stability, military security, and my religious convictions. I am marching because it is time for Israeli and Americans to speak up for our shared values.
I hope you join me and march to support the real Israel, with all its beauty and complexity, creativity and violence, morals and hopes, because the real Israel needs our help now.