New York’s annual, lavishly-funded Celebrate Israel parade was interrupted by scores of American Jewish activists, several of whom were arrested in the process.
Seven Jewish protesters were arrested in New York on Sunday afternoon as over 100 activists disrupted the annual Celebrate Israel parade. The event, which sees thousands of participants march down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue accompanied by elected officials such as Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, has received nearly $800,000 in funding from the Israeli government over the last seven years.
The counter-demonstrations were held by Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, who blocked the progress of the parade, unfurled banners in the middle of Fifth Avenue and staged sit-ins. Six of the seven JVP members who were arrested were released later on Sunday, and the last person is expected to be released on Monday.
The purpose of the counter-demonstration was to draw attention to Israel’s 50-year-old occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, the organization said in a statement. The protest, held under the slogan of “Celebrate Ending Israeli Apartheid,” was also intended to highlight exchange programs between the New York Police Department and Israeli security forces, which JVP calls “an exchange of worst practices that harm communities of color and Palestinians.”
Protesters reported being cursed at, threatened and manhandled by participants in the Celebrate Israel parade, as well as by private security, as they made their way past police barricades to disrupt the march. The activists stalled the progress of the mayor for several minutes, while the LGBTQ bloc in the parade was interrupted by a group of queer Jews, who held up signs saying, “No pride in apartheid” and “Queer Jews for a free Palestine.” Five of the LGBTQ Jewish protesters were among those arrested.
IfNotNow, who unraveled a banner saying “No celebration with occupation” in the middle of the parade, also staged other protests across the country to mark the occupation turning 50 this week.
IfNotNow demonstrators in Washington, D.C., protested outside a gala hosted by Friends of the IDF, which raises millions of dollars a year to for Israeli soldiers during and after their service. Activists read the mourners’ kaddish in memory of those killed as a result of the occupation, and held signs reading “Occupation is not my Judaism” while calling on gala attendees to work against the occupation and be honest with potential IDF recruits about the realities of serving in an occupying army.
In California’s Bay Area, meanwhile, a separate chapter of IfNotNow protested outside a Christians United for Israel event, held to celebrate what it termed “the 50th anniversary of Zion’s restoration.” CUFI, a conservative Christian Zionist organization led by right-wing Evangelical John Hagee, considers itself “the largest pro-Israel grassroots organization in the United States.”
The protests in New York, D.C. and California are the latest in a series of high-profile actions taken by American Jewish activists both in the U.S. and Israel-Palestine. At the end of May, protesters were forcefully removed from a nonviolent demonstration during Jerusalem Day, with Israeli police breaking the arm of a 25-year-old woman.
The week before, over 100 American and other international Jewish activists were part of a coalition of Palestinian, Israeli and American Jewish groups that established an anti-occupation protest camp in the West Bank. The Sumud Freedom Camp, located in the south Hebron hills, has now been standing for over two weeks.