Creeping Boycott – Israel Day Parade (2013)

celebrate israel

Once upon a time in the 1980s, I marched with the Habonim Dror contingent in the Celebrate Israel march, or whatever it was called back then. The Likud Party was then in power. I recall vaguely that Foreign Minister David Levy graced the grandstand with that fabulous grey pompadour for which he was justly renowned. I remember we carried pro-peace placards, and felt ourselves to be part of the march, part of an opposition. With all the other youth movements, we were either just in front of or just behind the rightwing Beitar people, who marched in military formation. The occupation was, at the time, far less entrenched, and far less dominated by the religious right, as was American Zionism, then they are today.

A friend on FB offers critical pushback, reminding me that the settlement enterprise was always religious. But the settlement project had not yet come to dominate the State to the degree that it has today. There were the ideological settlements, and there were quality of life settlements. There still are, of course, but as i recall it, the discourse about the Occupation, and that’s in part what I’m talking about is “discourse,” it was less religious and more about security, in the States and in Israel. The Likud was still, at the time during the 80s a secular party, before the Begins and Meridors and Olmerts were driven out by the Feiglins and the like; and American Zionism had not yet been overrun by Gush Emmunim types and their successors. As for facts on the ground, the settlement project was always religious, but there weren’t so many settlers in the West Bank, so  the religious were therefore “less entrenched” in the country as a whole.

That was a long time ago. The hardening of positions had not yet hardened back then. In the years before Oslo, most of us on the mainline Zionist left stood with the modern right against the idea of a Palestinian State. Today, things are different. As the Israel parade, and with it American Zionism, gets monopolized more and more by the religious rightwing, by modern orthodox day school and yeshiva kids, people like me are just as happy to decline our place at the march. Because today, what makes sense, namely a two-state solution to the conflict, may not makes sense tomorrow, whereas I’m still willing to bet that a one-state solution in all of Palestine, towards which the rightwing is  pointing Israel, more effectively than  the left-left, will portend only disaster.

Here in the United States, discourse about Israel and Zionism have  gotten to feel hollow by now. I won’t go to Celebrate Israel, not to march, not to watch, and, no, not to demonstrate either. And while I would not join the movement for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, that has as much to do with engrained habit and enduring sentimental ties as it does with firm ideological conviction based on a clear-eyed appraisal as to the political direction of the country. I could have marched with the progressive contingent, assembled under the banner of Americans For Peace Now and the New Israel Fund. Maybe next year. But not this year.

I understand that, in refusing to Celebrate Israel, I have made a basic decision to engage in a partial boycott of Israel. I won’t even say that this is an uncomfortable position marked by ambivalence, because it’s not. By no means do I consider myself to be a critic out on the margins of the community. I think I’m more ordinary than that, even more conventional, insofar, of course, as conventions change in response to events and changing circumstances. By the time liberal American Jews like myself reach middle age, they tend to either make peace with the Jewish community or disengage –more or less.

All this suggests to me that a lot of the arguments at the edge of the Jewish community about BDS are beside the point; or at least they reflect larger and more significant social and cultural dynamics whose articulation in the vast “center” are harder to identify than the positionings that occur further to the right and to the left. The Israel parade is an interesting test-case. What was once a mainstream, centrist community event moves vociferously to the right, while the liberal mainstream votes quietly with its feet and vacates its place with a shrug.

I like this bit as reported by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz. For dramatic effect, I’m reversing the order of paragraphs here:

The Israeli delegation to the parade included cabinet ministers Gilad Erdan and Sofa Landver, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon and Yesh Atid’s Dov Lipman. Lipman, the American-born newcomer from Yair Lapid’s party, widely recognized by many among the predominantly Orthodox marchers, ascribed the relative lack of representatives of other streams to their inferior status in Israel. “They feel it doesn’t belong to them,” he said

But the phenomenon of ever-decreasing non-Orthodox participation may reflect deeper and more worrying trends from Israel’s point of view. While the degree of support for Israel among Orthodox groups is obviously on the rise, non-Orthodox New Yorkers either can’t be bothered or are, in fact, increasingly alienated by the parade or by the country that it salutes, or both.


Although the organizers forbade political demonstrations, many of the Orthodox schools sported maps of Israel without the 1967 lines, shouted slogans in favor of one Jerusalem and “the holy city of Hebron” and participated in a political post-parade concert in Central Park. The non-Orthodox Zionist Organization of America delegation unfurled a banner with portraits of Zionism’s greatest, including Theodor Herzl, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and … Sheldon Adelson.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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