The Pro-Israel Parade caucus of the JCC Watch has begun it's campaign again to ban left-wing Zionist organizations from marching in the Israel Day Parade. The main focus of their argument is against the New Israel Fund, a longtime supporter of progressive causes, democratic reforms and civil society for Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Like Louis Brandeis, Henrietta Szold, Albert Einstein and countless other American Jews, the staff and supporters of the New Israel Fund believes that Israel is strongest when its democratic institutions are strong and all supporters of the Jewish, democratic state can engage in a meaningful discourse about the nature of a country we all love.
The NIF's mission states the following: "The New Israel Fund is dedicated to the vision of the State of Israel as the sovereign expression of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people and as a democracy dedicated to the full equality of all its citizens and communities."
This idea is taken directly from Israel's Declaration of Independence, written as the guiding document for the state when it was established in 1948. This is not a radical or dangerous idea as it is portrayed by the "Pro-Israel Parade" caucus of JCC Watch claims it be but in fact is, at it's core, a Zionist idea.
As I recently wrote in an editorial in the Jewish Week, Israel's strength, and the long-term resilience of the Jewish people, each depend upon a vibrant democracy, a civil exchange of ideas, and a healthy, respectful debate about Israel's future. Vilification has no place in this debate and only damages our chances of working together to make the necessary compromises to safeguard Israel's future.
This past week in our synagogue, we hosted Hagit Ofran and Yariv Oppenheimer from Peace Now in Israel. Zionists, veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, deeply committed Zionists, both Ofran and Oppenheimer have repeatedly received death-threats from right-wing activists, merely because they believe that Israeli settlements should not be expanded in the West Bank; because they litigate on behalf of Palestinians whose lands are taken to support such expansions; and continue to argue forcefully that the way forward is through negotiation and painful compromise.
To so many people, these are reasonable ideas; but unfortunately, we are living in an era of Jewish history when compromise and democratic values are portrayed as a threat to the Jewish state. I cannot think of an historical precedent where the radical constriction of rights, where the censoring of dissent, and where death-threats against democratic activists, has ended well.
It would serve well, however, if the leading voices of the New York and American Jewish community let it be known loud and clear that attempts to ban "left" or "liberal" Zionists from the Israel Day Parade will be a diminishment for our community and for the vision of Israel as well.