In light of a public outcry leading up to the 2014 Celebrate Israel Parade over its more controversial participants, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York recently refined the event’s 2015 acceptance guidelines. The JCRC organizes the massive annual march, which has taken place since 1964 and last year had an estimated 35,000 marchers.
With right-wing, pro-Israel organizations claiming victory and their left-wing counterparts sounding unfazed, who the new guidelines retain and who they will exclude is still up for debate—and may need Talmudic interpretation.
“For security reasons” the JCRC will not confirm groups’ participation — hypothetical or otherwise — until a week prior to the parade. Director of the Celebrate Israel Initiative Mike Mittelman told The Times of Israel on February 12 that the JCRC “does its best to make sure the parade is as apolitical as possible,” and categorically rejects participation of clear political lobbying organizations such as J Street and AIPAC.
Additionally, according to the guidelines, “All groups must identify with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”
This year’s addition to the guidelines states, “All Groups must oppose, not fund, nor advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel by not recognizing it as a Jewish state.” Applications are open until March 27.
Pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs praised the guidelines’ amendment.
“Those who dedicate their time to demonizing Israel have no place in a parade to celebrate Israel,” said Michael Dickson, Israel Director for StandWithUs. “Anyone who can say the word ‘boycott’ and ‘Jewish’ in the same sentence has a deaf ear to history. BDS singles out the Jewish State in a bid to bring about its downfall. BDS is a radical movement and its supporters should be considered outside the mainstream.”
The Israeli right-wing watchdog Im Tirtzu said the new guidelines were a victory for American Zionism.
Alongside right-wing US groups such as JCCWatch, Im Tirtzu led protests in 2014 over the parade’s inclusion of, particularly, the New Israel Fund and B’Tselem USA “on the grounds that they are not Zionist organizations and promote the delegitimization of Israel around the world,” said Im Tirtzu.
Since 2010, Im Tirtzu has spearheaded an ongoing campaign against the New Israel Fund, which it sees as posing as a Zionist organization while delegitimizing Israel, and therefore “a greater threat to Israel than any boycott organizations worldwide.”
“The New Israel Fund sees participation in the parade as a strategic step in being accepted as a Zionist organization, in spite of the fact that they have encouraged a boycott of products and companies in Judea and Samaria,” claimed Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirtzu.
The new guidelines show that “the Jewish community in the United States understands Zionism and is willing to fight for it,” said Peleg.
Comparing the amendment to the famous Neil Armstrong statement upon landing on the moon, Peleg said, “This is a giant leap for American Zionism. It is saying that those who reject Israel as a democratic state and are pro-BDS are not with us.”
However, it is not so clear that the New Israel Fund’s application will be rejected, based on the JCRC document defining the delegitimization of Israel.
“Regarding Israel, delegitimization includes questioning the validity of Israel’s founding, demonizing Israel and equating its policies with Nazism, apartheid and racist ideologies, holding Israel to double standards, and promoting a one-state solution (Israel’s demographic dissolution),” reads the document.
According to another Israeli watchdog, NGO Monitor, the New Israel Fund is indeed guilty of funding organizations that delegitimize Israel by approaching international human rights organizations to investigate Israel for alleged crimes against humanity.
But the JCRC document leaves room for interpretation there as well, in discussing the differences between criticism and delegitimization: “Criticism is a natural function of any democracy. Its purpose is to strengthen democracy by questioning leaders and holding them accountable for their actions. In contrast, the purpose of delegitimization is to destroy a country.”
Founder of JCCWatch Richard Allen would like a little more clarification.
“While the New York JCRC & UJA-Federation say BDS groups are prohibited, their leaders allow groups that call for a boycott of Israeli companies and who finance BDS to march in the parade. This ‘Big Tent’ Orwellian philosophy allows the New York UJA-Federation to hoodwink our community into having our Jewish day school children march with anti-Israel groups and kosher these groups as ‘Zionist,’” Allen told The Times of Israel.
Far-left organization Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS as a tactic for dialogue and saw a leap in membership during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, shrugged off the new guidelines and said that it was not planning on requesting admission into the parade anyway.
“This new contract clause is distressing but not particularly surprising. It seems very much in line with the pattern of red-lining by many Jewish communal organizations, and their refusal to engage in principled debate over either Israeli human rights violations or non-violent strategies to make change,” said Ari Wohlfeiler, the New York-based development director for Jewish Voice for Peace.
The New Israel Fund, for its part, said that of course it would be marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade this year.
“Im Tirtzu is, as usual, wrong. NIF looks forward to joining the parade this year since none of the guidelines excludes us. Although we and our partners sometimes strongly criticize Israeli government policy, no one except hard-right extremists thinks that equals delegitimization,” said Naomi Paiss, the spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund.
Paiss said that NIF principles state Israel is the Jewish homeland and that the parade BDS policy “exactly mirrors that of NIF — we too will not fund any organization participating in the global BDS movement,” she said.
“We’re also curious if the requirement for banning groups that do not recognize Israel as Jewish and democratic means that Im Tirtzu’s American counterparts will not be able to march, since they certainly do not recognize or support democracy in Israel,” she added.