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NJ rabbi joins effort to ban groups from parade
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NJ rabbi joins effort to ban groups from parade

Targets deny charges by hawkish coalition that they support BDS

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

An e-mailed petition circulated by a hawkish pro-Israel coalition — and signed by at least one NJ rabbi — is demanding that a number of left-leaning groups be barred from marching in New York City’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade.

The petition claims that the New Israel Fund and other groups that plan to march in the June 3 parade support or fund groups that support the BDS movement, whose followers call for an economic boycott of Israel.

The organizer of the petition, JCCWatch.org, asserts that “Jewish groups that organize for the economic destruction of other Jews should not be given the honor of marching with our community.”

Sent out April 26 by the “Committee for a Pro-Israel Parade,” the letter singles out NIF and organizations that marched under its banner in last year’s parade — including Rabbis for Human Rights and Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA).

NIF funds a wide range of civil rights, religious pluralism, environmental, and poverty-fighting efforts in Israel.

The petition, however, focuses on NIF’s support of a few Israel-based NGOs that have either signed a letter in support of boycott activity or have urged members not to purchase goods or services manufactured in West Bank settlements.

“Jews who actively work to economically sabotage Israel should not be included in the Celebrate Israel Parade,” writes Richard Allen, founder of JCCWatch, in a note appearing on its website.

NIF has issued a statement saying: “We do not fund any BDS activities against Israel nor fund any organization for which it is a substantial part of their activities, nor will we.”

As for grantees who have signed onto some boycott activities, it adds, “Organizations with strong track records on behalf of civil and human rights in Israel will not be excluded for signing one letter. An organization that provides a list of companies profiting from their business dealings in the occupied territories is illuminating the economic effects of the occupation, and is within our guidelines.”

‘No substance’

Such a response was inadequate for Rabbi Lisa Malik of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, the only NJ rabbi whose name currently appears on the petition.

“I am against organizations that support BDS,” she said in an interview. “To include organizations known to be supportive of BDS is a sabotage of Israel at the parade. That’s very upsetting to me.”

The letter’s 17 signatories include seven rabbis as well as representatives of such organizations as the National Conference on Jewish Affairs, Z Street, and Americans for a Safe Israel. Allen created JCCWatch in 2011 to protest the participation of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan in a film festival that included the involvement of left-leaning and Israel-based NGOs that, according to JCCWatch, “support and/or fund other groups that support BDS.”

Such efforts to isolate left-leaning NGOs mirror a debate in Israel, where hawkish legislators and activists have scrutinized the funding and activities of NIF and its grantees. In the United States, right-leaning pro-Israel groups embraced such measures, while centrist groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, expressed concerns that they would curtail free speech and damage Israel’s image as a democracy.

The annual Israel parade, which draws tens of thousands of marchers and spectators to Fifth Avenue, is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. The JCRC is not issuing a formal response to the petition, according to a source close to the parade.

The source disagreed with the assertions of the petition organizers.

“The fundamental problem is the presumption at the outset” made by the Committee for a Pro-Israel Parade, the source said. Its claims, the source said, “are not legitimate at all.” None of the organizations named actually says it supports BDS, the source added.

The source pointed out that some of the organizations singled out are members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and termed the call to ban them from the parade “inappropriate” and “nonsensical.”

“One day a year we need all pro-Israel groups to come together,” said the source. “It’s nuts to try to break up this one day that we’re supposed to be together. We’re being asked to fight a shadow. There is no substance to what is being said.”

Similarly, Ron Skolnik, executive director of Partners for Progressive Israel, told NJJN that his group does not support BDS, although it has issued a call for “a boycott of the products made in West Bank settlements.”

“We are not boycotting Jews as Jews, or even as settlers,” Skolnik said. “We are simply offering a call not to promote further economic entrenchments of settlements” in the West Bank.

To Malik, that is a distinction without a difference.

“These groups’ main objective is to bring down Israel’s economy to get to their viewpoint,” she said. “If you’re funding groups that support BDS, that’s the same as supporting BDS. Partners for Progressive Israel has a list of products to boycott right on their website. New Israel Fund should have its day, but it just strikes me as wrong for them to march in this parade.”

Added Malik: “I know people who live over the Green Line who are living there not because they want to throw the Arabs out but because that’s where they could afford to buy a house. Why should we boycott their businesses?”

Regarding the organizations she would exclude, she said, “To me, they are loving part of Israel, but not all of Israel.” The parade, she said, “is about a celebration of Israel. Groups that are anti-Israel — it’s just upsetting.”

All parade participants are required to sign a “Tone & Spirit Agreement and Release” agreeing that the sole purpose of the parade is to “demonstrate the community’s love for Israel” and that it is “held with pride and with a sense of unity, despite philosophical or political differences within the community-at-large.”

Skolnik pointed out that parade organizers have made it clear that the targeted organizations will be permitted to march.

“To the extent that that decision is not challenged, we don’t expect to offer a formal response,” he said.

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