Tens of Thousands Celebrate Israel Despite Hostage Sorrow, Security Fears, Small Protests

Held since 1964, this year’s parade up 5th Avenue was marked by fortitude, and defiance in the face of anti-Israel critics. There was a small number of pro-Palestine protestors along the route and no reported arrests amid extremely tight security.

| 05 Jun 2024 | 11:34

Tens of thousands of people—Jews, allies of Jews and spectacle lovers alike—came out to celebrate the Israel Day Parade on Sunday June 2. The morning and afternoon were both gorgeous, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s. From the parade’s staging area on 5th Avenue just north of St Patrick’s Cathedral to 74th Street, the route was a veritable sea of blue and white, reflecting both the colors of the Israeli flag and the uniforms of thousands of men and women of the NYPD.

While the official theme is this years’s parade was “One Nation, One Heart,” the more telling slogan, seen in abundance, was “Bring Them Home,” a call referring to the estimated 132 hostages, including women, children, and men, still being held hostage by Hamas forces in Gaza. It’s unknown how many of those hostages are still alive.

First held in 1964, this year’s event, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, was marked by near omnipresent security in the wake of ongoing protests against Israel and its continuing war against Hamas-controlled Palestine following Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack against Israel.

Sources estimate that over 30,000 people have been killed by the Israeli counter offensive, which has spurred many of the pro-Palestine protestors in the city.

The most recent protest incident took place on of Friday May 31, when hundreds of protesters staged a forceful “takeover” of the Brooklyn Museum. Past targets including the American Museum of Natural History, the main branch of the New York Public Library, and the 107th Infantry Memorial in Central Park at East 67th Street.

Among the NYPD units out in notable force were Counterterrorism, Emergency Service Unit and the Bomb Squad. They were complemented by uncountable uniformed officers from many commands, as well as giant Sanitation Department trucks to block off intersections, and even School Safety Department vehicles

Though spirits among the marchers—estimated to number 60,000 themselves—and spectators were generally high, there were some security-related obstacles to overcome. That those wishing to watch the parade along 5th Avenue had to go through airport-like scanners they approached only on certain cross streets off Madison Avenue was generally not an issue. Most people were glad to see that security was being taken so seriously.

What was a problem was the conflicting information from police about who and what would be allowed through the scanners. Depending on who one asked, backpacks either were or were not allowed, but purses and fanny packs were. Likewise baby strollers, with the idea that baby strollers might be banned rousing some to understandable anger. Why even have a parade if babies and little children can’t attend?

While long lines were seen at East 62nd Street those entering at East 66th Street faced no such delays.

Even here, however, the security set-up was substantial, and tightly controlled. Two rows of fences kept spectators from the parade route proper, one of which was used as a chicane-like route for the NYPD bicycle cops going back and forth. The west side of 5th Avenue was largely inaccessible to spectators except for those who had secured seats on the small set of bleachers near East 68th Street. Joining NYPD were numerous men from Hatzalah, the Jewish volunteer EMS organization.

Conversation between the cops, Hatzalah and the spectators were jovial, with the bike cops—some in shorts, most in dark navy pants—getting repeated applause as they pedaled back and forth prior to the parade’s arrival.

After some-good natured jokes about the parade running late because it’s on “Jewish time,” the line of march reached East 66th just before noon. They were led by small contingent of NYPD Mounted officers carrying the flags of the United States, Israel, New York State and City, and NYPD. These first equine marchers were followed by a small group of sanitation workers with garbage cans and shovels to clean up after any horse poop for the many paraders to follow, including the NYPD Police Band; Grand Marshal Harley Lippman; various political dignitaries and others; including the families and friends of hostages still being held in Gaza.

Among the politicians showing their support, including people carrying signs reading “Bring Them Home” were U.S. Senator Charles Schumer; U.S. Congressmen Tom Suozzi, Mike Lawler, Dan Goldman and Jerry Nadler; Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein; City Council Members Gale Brewer and James Gennaro; Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine; New York State Attorney General Letitia James; and Governor Kathy Hochul.

Mayor Eric Adams was there of course too, but his phalanx was so large with his own staff, security and Jewish friends including Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, the crowd hardly saw Hizzoner. Among the recognizable city officials in Adams’ group were NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban; NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell; and DCPI boss Tarik Sheppard.

In a statement on Facebook, Adams said that he was proud to join the parade, “all of us marching as to celebrate the 76th anniversary of Israel and to show the world that hate has no place in our city. I’ll always stand by our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Hours of marchers followed, all celebratory but some more somber than others, especially those directly related to the Gaza hostages. What can one say to the woman holding a sign of Ohad Yahalomi, age 49– with that number crossed out and rewritten 50? Or the woman in a Bring Them Home Now! t-shirt with a yellow ribbon attached, holding up a sign for Ariel Bibas, age 4, while Israeli and American flags surround her?

The pro-Palestinian forces had their messages too though, except for one miscreant who hid behind a mask to display the sign “Kill All Hostages Now,” they stayed away from the 5th Avenue parade route. Over on Madison Avenue in the East 50s, however, where late marchers were still assembling in the early afternoon, the gadfly radical Orthodox Jewish group Neturie Karta could be seen with their vehemently anti-Israel signs.

Though Neturie Karta resemble the city’s other Hasidic groups in appearance, their beliefs and practices are so far outside those of even anti-Zionist (for theological reasons having to do with biblical prophecy) sects like the Satmar, they are fiercely disparaged, or ignored, by most other Jews. Ubiquitous at protests— including some on shabbat— the young men of Neturei Karta spares no rhetoric to scorn Israel, or to ahistorically blame the state of Israel as a “main cause for antisemitism.”

Conversely, and referring to the most brutal form of antisemitism short of death, the rape of persons taken captive on October 7, there was the female marcher holding up a simple sign, with white letters printed on a dark blue background, “I believe Israeli women.”

More lightly but with a similar message was the bright yellow and black sticker some spectators carried. Adorned with a caricature of Larry David’s head, its slogan read, “CURB YOUR ANTISEMITISM.”