Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was awash in blue and white flags on Sunday, June 4 as the Celebrate Israel parade kicked off for its 52nd year. This year’s theme according to organizers was “Celebrate Israel All Together,” though the 50th year of Jerusalem’s “reunification” took center stage.
But for Palestinians, the so-called reunification of Jerusalem marks the beginning of Israel’s 50-year military occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem. With this in mind, multiple anti-occupation protests halted the parade along its route, resulting in 7 arrests by the NYPD.
Rosza Daniel Lang-Levitsky, one of those arrested for forming a blockade of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at 65th and 5th Avenue, sought with this action to highlight the collusion between New York law enforcement authorities and those in Israel.
“The creation of panic around supposed terrorist threats directly affects Muslim communities in ways that are very much driven by the New York City government’s commitment to exchanges with the Israeli government,” Lang-Levitsky told Mondoweiss. (Jewish Voice for Peace has recently launched a new campaign called #DeadlyExchange, bringing light to this very issue).
Shortly after the arrests, there were approximately 45 uniformed officers at the scene. When asked about the NYPD and Israeli police joint training, one officer did admit to recently participating in a training session with Israeli police officers in New York.
Some off-duty officers even participated in the parade, riding their NYPD motorcycles amongst the Chai Riders, a Zionist motorcycle club.
Rightwing Zionists and progressive Zionists in practice are no different said Lang-Levitsky, a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Artists and Cultural Workers Council.
“This parade is one of the points where it’s very visible that there’s absolutely no difference between these organizations and their support for state violence both in Palestine and in this country.”
Another group of protestors held a sit-in disruption of the LGBTQ parade contingent, with signs reading “No pride in apartheid” and “Queer Jews for a free Palestine.”
All 7 of the arrested protestors have since been charged and released. “The individuals who disrupted the parade were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct,” an NYPD spokesperson told Mondoweiss.
Beyond technical police coordination between Israel and New York, the parade showcased cooperation of Israel and New York’s political elites.
Bill de Blasio marched alongside Nir Barkat while New York Senator Chuck Schumer, one of New York’s most outspoken critics of Trump and a familiar face at anti-Islamophobia rallies in the city, marched up Fifth Avenue waving an Israeli flag the entire way.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was featured prominently between Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan—an ardent backer of Israel’s illegal West Bank settlement enterprise— and Chemi Peres, the son of Israel’s former prime minister Shimon Peres. Cuomo was introduced as “a great friend of Israel and supporter of the Jewish community,” undoubtedly thanks in part to the anti-BDS legislation he signed into law exactly one year ago.
Other elected officials included Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, New York City public advocate Letitia James and borough presidents of Queens and Manhattan, Melinda Katz and Gale Brewer.
Amid the 40,000 in attendance were members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a rightwing group the FBI deemed a terrorist organization that has seen a recent resurgence from obscurity.
The JDL seemed primarily interested in protesting a pro-Palestinian contingent penned in at 58th street that included Al-Awda New York, American Muslims for Palestine New Jersey, CODEPINK, International Action Center, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Labor for Palestine, Neturei Karta, NY4Palestine, New York City Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Rutgers SJP and Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
Members of the JDL refused to speak with Mondoweiss, but yelled things like “Go back to Jordan!” and “There is no Palestine, there will never be a Palestine” as can be heard in the accompanying video.
The Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund also sponsored a large float in the parade to celebrate the Israeli settler community in the West Bank city. The Hebron Fund is a tax-exempt organization that funnels money to settlements in Hebron and some of the most violent and ideological settlers—among them Baruch Marzel, the leader of Kach, a political party so violent and extreme it is outlawed in both Israel and the US as a terrorist organization.
A speaker on the Hebron Fund float loudly invoked a history of Jewish supremacy, calling Hebron “the foundation of Jewish peoplehood.”
Hebron is where “the Jewish people are being reborn. Nothing will push us, nothing will weaken us. We’re finally back home,” the speaker shouted.
“Come visit us in Hebron!”