A great episode of Jews in the city: The Celebrate Israel parade returns for the first time in three years

Thousands of Jewish pedestrians walked down the middle of New York's Fifth Avenue waving Israeli flags


NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo marches in the Celebrate Israel Parade moments after he condemn the rise of anti semitism across the United States on June 2, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

May 26, 2022 14:50

Millions of Jews, always in a hurry, always telling you your own business, surrounded by hostility and incomprehension. No, not Israel: New York City.

The Jewishness of New York is still wonderful to behold. It is unremarkable to be a Jew in the city, except on certain occasions. One of them happened last week, when the Celebrate Israel parade returned for the first time in three years after the traditional Covid hiatus.

I happened to be in Midtown three years ago as the last parade got going. The police parted the traffic on Fifth Avenue like the waters of the Red Sea, and thousands of Jewish pedestrians walked down the middle of the road, waving Israeli and American flags and singing.

No other city has so many Jews, and no other city feels so close to Israel. It was deeply moving. The moving would have been even deeper had I not been late for a meeting on the other side of Fifth Avenue. This combination of emotion and irritation is also a quintessentially New York experience. This year, it was expressed most fully by Rudy Giuliani, who is not Jewish and not the mayor anymore either, but nevertheless got into the spirit of the occasion by pausing to shout insults at a spectator who had shouted insults at him.

The organisers reckon that some 40,000 people from about 250 groups marched this year. They represent the extraordinary depth and variety of Jewish life in America, from schoolchildren to military vets, fundraisers for the settlements to activists for Jewish LGBTQ+ rights. There is always enough bad news about Jews, but an event like this is good news. Perhaps this is why the New York Times did not cover the parade.

Celebrating your connections to the ancestral homeland is typically American. So is donating to political candidates and then complaining about it when the neighbours do it.

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was another pro-Israel organisation that made news last week. AIPAC lobbies Congress bottom-up. Its local chapters encourage their members to contact their Congressional representatives, ask them to strengthen the US-Israel relationship and strive to ensure that support for Israel remains bipartisan.

In the course of my journalistic duties, I’ve attended a couple of my local chapter’s events. The catering was excellent. I was also impressed by the detailed, grassroots organising that this kind of operation requires. AIPAC did not engage in political fundraising donate to political campaigns — until now. In December 2021, AIPAC launched the United Democracy Project (UDP), a “super-PAC”, a vehicle for fundraising and contributing to candidates.

The criteria remain the same: support for pro-Israel candidates, opposition to anti-Israel candidates.

So far, the UDP has donated only to candidates in Democratic primary races. It has also endorsed more than 100 Republican incumbents, some of whom voted against certifying the 2020 elections. Last week, recipients of UDP support won Democratic primaries in Ohio and North Carolina. In western Pennsylvania, the UDP-favoured Democrat, an ex-Republican, lost narrowly to Summer Lee, who will be the first black woman to serve in state office in western Pennsylvania.

Lee is not much of a Democrat, either. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which supports BDS, and has a record of anti-Israel statements, including comparing the IDF’s actions against Hamas to the shooting of unarmed black men in the US. No need to hold her a place in the Celebrate Israel parade.

The Democratic left is furious. Bernie Sanders accuses AIPAC of targeting “women of colour”, and declares “a war for the future of the Democratic Party”. In The Nation, the magazine of the far left, Ezra Oliff-Lieberman says AIPAC is “undemocratic” and opposes “multiracial democracy and a liveable future”.

Sanders failed to mention that his preferred candidates also receive super-PAC money. Oliff-Lieberman works for the Sunrise Movement, a climate crisis super-PAC that thinks anti-Zionism is a way to heal the planet.

The Celebrate Israel parade and AIPAC’s move into funding candidates are routine American politics. The question now is, will direct involvement in electoral races undermine AIPAC’s bipartisan agenda and rain on its parade?

May 26, 2022 14:50

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