NEW YORK (Jun. 6)
A casual observer might have thought Israel’s national colors were blue, white — and orange. Sunday marked the annual rite of passage for Zionist New Yorkers, hundreds of thousands of whom took to Fifth Avenue to cheer for Israel on a blistering summer day.
Prominent in the crowd, however, were opponents of Israel’s upcoming Gaza withdrawal, wearing orange T-shirts, carrying signs and handing out literature against the government’s plan.
As usual, the Salute to Israel parade brought out the community — scores of day-school students sporting tie-dyed versions of the parade T-shirts advanced along the avenue, while parents searched for their marching children.
Couples fanned sleepy babies or held them atop their shoulders for a look at the festivities. All along the way, sweaty hugs of reunion took place between old friends and acquaintances.
“It’s like a village,” said Brigitte Dayan, a Jewish communal worker in New York.
“You walk down the street and you see many people you know,” she said. “I’m here because it’s the next best thing to being in Israel.”
But this year, the traditional sea of blue and white flags was spotted with orange.
The parade took place against the backdrop of Israel’s withdrawal plan. Anti-withdrawal activists could hardly be missed, with their vivid orange T-shirts stating a bold warning: “Jews should not expel Jews.”
The activists had peacefully joined the crowd and were selling the T-shirts and handing out literature to a crowd — much of which was Orthodox and politically conservative — that seemed to take kindly to them.
Jason Koenig, 30, who attended the parade with his wife and three kids, said all the activists were unified in their support of Israel.
“Everyone has a different view of what that support is,” he said. “If they were sitting here booing, obviously I would have a different opinion.”
Chani Holzer, 44, and Karyn Feinberg, 49, think the protesters have a point.
“I don’t know that I’d want to leave my house in Lawrence now after living there seven years,” Holzer said, referring to her Long Island town. “It’s my community. It’s the place where my kids go to school.”
But Feinberg objected to the strategy.
“They’re killing us, and we’re handing them something on a silver platter,” she said.
Daniella Vloch, 28, an Israeli dancer, said she identifies with the right-wing in Israeli politics, and opposes the withdrawal plan.
“From our side, we see this as one more step toward peace. From their side, it means nothing,” Vloch said, referring to the Palestinians. “In their eyes, until we clean out of every single part of the State of Israel, there will never be peace and quiet.”
Richard Baum and Barbara Baum, attending the parade with relatives, were discussing their concern about the withdrawal.
“I don’t really know how I personally feel about it,” Barbara Baum said. “I’m very torn. I think everyone’s very torn.”
But even some who were torn felt that it wasn’t appropriate to protest at the event.
Daniel Bettinger, a Manhattan businessman attending the parade with his Israeli-born wife, Nava, and two children, said Americans should not object to Israeli government policy.
“Frankly, I’m not putting my sons at risk,” Bettinger said. “An Israeli mother sending her sons into Gaza and into harm’s way, it’s her decision and the people of Israel’s decision.”
Nava added that the protests were offensive to those marching in the parade, who were the true supporters of Israel, she said.
“The American people have to side with the government of Israel. The government of Israel has to make a decision what is best for Israel, and we must support the government of Israel,” she said.
But orange-clad Joshua Fogelman, 34, had a more nuanced message.
“Instead of against the government, we’re for the residents,” he said.
After the parade, roughly 1,000 people — far fewer than the 35,000 estimated by organizers — gathered in Central Park for a rally and concert to protest the withdrawal plan.
The rally featured addresses by Israeli legislators Effie Eitam and Uzi Landau, New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, among others.
“Our message is that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people forever,” said Dr. Joseph Frager, the rally’s organizer. “This year the land of Gush Katif is slated to be surrendered to terrorists. We do not think it will bring peace.”
The post-parade concert and rally have become an annual event since 1993 at the initiative of Frager, who felt the parade would be an ideal forum to protest the Oslo accords.
The event was sponsored by a host of right-wing groups, including the Chevron Fund, Americans for a Safe Israel, the Zionist Organization of America, Coalition for Gush Katif and the National Council of Young Israel.
“The most important message to the Jews of Gush Katif,” said Gil Margulis, 36, a volunteer at the rally, “is that you are not alone, that your fight is our fight.”
(JTA correspondent Tzvi Kahn contributed to this report.)