By Nomi Colton-Max and Shani Granot-Lubaton. Originally posted on Haaretz, 6.5.2023
The ongoing attempt to destroy Israel’s democracy by Israel’s own far-right government has had at least one unintended consequence: it has solidified the relationship between progressive Israeli and American Jews.
Even a month ago it would have been hard to imagine that Ameinu, a progressive Zionist organization that works within the American Jewish community would have 1,000 members marching down Fifth Avenue in the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City.
For years we marched proudly, but as the event was gradually taken over by right-wing supporters of Israel, we and many other progressive Zionists stayed away.
But on Sunday Ameinu returned to the parade with reinforced numbers, alongside hundreds of Israelis who joined as part of the ongoing battle for Israel’s democracy. Together, we were the largest group marching among some 40,000 people.
Our presence at the parade, after a hiatus of more than a decade, reflects a wider transformation within the global Jewish community and signals a watershed in American-Israeli cooperation.
Our Zionism, grounded in the writings of Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and other early Zionists and codified in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, is about always striving to live up to the vision of Israel’s founders – one based in equality for all its residents and respect for the law.
We have looked on with horror as the current Israeli government rolled out its plans to neuter the courts and hand itself more power, endangering civil rights including women’s’ rights, the rights of minorities and marginalized groups.
For Ameinu, as for progressive Jews everywhere, there is no contradiction between loving Israel and criticizing government policies that do not align with our democratic liberal values. This is what true Zionism is, and what true patriotism is.
Our Zionism, while firmly in line with the Israeli consensus, has not always been welcomed within traditional, right-wing dominated mainstream Jewish institutions. For too long, progressive pro-Israel organizations like Ameinu, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and New York Jewish Agenda have fought to remain part of the American Jewish conversation.
We jumped at the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with Israelis living in the United States and with the wider American Jewish community, many of whom share our outlook.
Ameinu’s presence at the parade reflects a new phase in American Jewish relations to Israel. The majority of American Jews simply consider the current government of Israel an anathema, treyf. We marched both to celebrate the State of Israel and to show our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Israel and around the world who are on the front lines in the fight for the Israel’s democracy.
Waving Israeli flags, we marched wearing t-shirts that read,“Zionism Equals Democracy.” Young and old, American-born, immigrant as well as a large contingent of Israelis currently living in the United States – we are the tapestry of American Jewry in 2023.
This April, in Jerusalem Ameinu’s leadership and members marched during the World Zionist Congress, considered the Jewish People’s parliament. Ameinu also led a march of over 250 people to the Supreme Court which has been in the crosshairs of the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
We succeeded thanks to the support of Israeli protest groups, including UnXeptable and Brothers and Sisters in Arms, as well as the power of social media outreach.
Even during the planning phase of the Jerusalem march, we began strategizing our next demonstration. Less than three days after our march, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would not speak at the flagship gathering of the Jewish Federations of North America which was also taking place at that time.
This new American Jewish and Israeli cooperation among activists arguably helped influence Netanyahu’s decision not to show up in person. Our collective pressure on the government is having an impact.
Marching in the parade was the next logical and vital step, and considering not just the size of the delegation but the reception that we received from many watching the parade, it was the correct one.
We were also so proud to have Asaf Zamir, who resigned from his post as Israeli Consul-General to New York in protest of the government, his wife actress Maya Wertheimer, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, as well as Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and other members of the Reform movement and the Association for Reform Zionists of America march with us.
While we are always stronger together, this time it felt more powerful: everyone has become more united because of this important moment. For many Israelis marching with us, this was the first parade in support of Israel in the Diaspora they had ever participated in.
The Israeli community living in the United States is mostly not organized in institutions like synagogues and movements, and not only do they not usually take part in the parade, they typically have little connection to organized American Jewish life.
But from the moment we posted in local Israeli WhatsApp groups about the possibility of marching together, expressing our love for Israel and at the same time also our concern for the future of the country, hundreds asked to march with us.
We have given a home to those who observe the situation in Israel with great fear, a place to express our criticism of the current government and the way in which it crushes the Israeli social fabric, security, and economy, and to do so from a loving position towards our homeland.
There were voices from within the progressive community that said that it was a mistake to participate in the march, and we understand those who would have preferred if we had joined them on the sidelines in protest. After all, we shared the Avenue with racist, hateful, dangerous Israeli Cabinet members and Knesset members who are attempting to dismantle Israeli democracy. These politicians consistently show disdain and disrespect for the American Jewish community, whose political and financial support they somehow still crave.
We believe that both of these approaches are important, symbiotic and successful. An hour before the start of the parade, several ministers cancelled their participation.
Ameinu will continue to work within the mainstream Jewish community to bring change while simultaneously confronting those who turn a blind eye to the situation in Israel, one where peaceful demonstrators were attacked on Shabbat.
On Sunday we marched, and tomorrow we will continue to demonstrate. May our version of Zionism carry the day again soon.
Nomi Colton-Max was the Ameinu Parade Co-Chair. She is the Chair of the Executive Committee and Vice President of Ameinu. Nomi is also the Vice President for Programming of the American Zionist Movement and serves on the Expanded Executive of the World Zionist Organization. Twitter: @NomiColtonMax
Shany Granot-Lubaton was the Ameinu Parade Co-Chair. She is leading the protests against the judicial coup in Israel from New York City. In Israel she was deputy director of the Darkenu movement and chief of staff of the former head of the Israeli opposition, Shelly Yechimovich. Twitter @ShanyGranot