Why I Marched for Peace at This Year’s Israel Day Parade

Talia Benamy, J Street New York City Communal Chair
on June 7, 2024

Marchers at the 2024 Israel Day parade

I’ve gone to the Israel Day Parade almost every year of my life. Sometimes I’ve gone as a spectator, and sometimes I’ve gone as a marcher – but I’ve always gone as a Zionist, with a deep love for Israel and a deep sense of joy in sharing that love with so many others in my Jewish community.

Last year, with the democracy protests in Israel and around the world in full swing, I showed up and marched up Fifth Avenue proudly, chanting for democracy along the way.

And then came this year.

This year, in the run-up to the parade, I – and so many I knew – had mixed emotions. The parade tends to draw a relatively right-wing crowd, on Israel, at least, not to mention a contingent from the Israeli government’s right-wing coalition parties. There’s little to no nuance involved, and any nuance expressed in previous years, from calls for peace and two states to calls for democracy, has been angrily shouted down by other parade goers. For those of us who are less comfortable with that maximalist stance, and who share deep concerns about the direction the Netanyahu government is taking Israel, it can feel alienating. This year, with emotions and positions so highly charged, it had the potential to feel even more so.

As just one example of the types of conversations I had prior to this year’s parade: A few days before it took place, a friend who I know cares deeply about Israel texted with a question. “Should we be supporting Israel this year?” What he meant was: Should we be attending the parade, with its maximalist attitudes and its contingent of politicians who represent the very opposite of what we hope the future of Israel will look like? Would doing so be a signal of support for their stances? Would it, ultimately, be a betrayal of our values?

Photo by Gili Getz

It was a valid question, even if it broke my heart ever so slightly. This year, with hostages being held, with innocent Palestinians suffering, and with an Israeli government that seems to not be prioritizing either, it was easy to see how joining in with the crowd could send the exact opposite message than intended.

And yet, I told this friend, I still planned on joining.

The group I chose to march with was the one being led by the Hostage Families Forum of New York, in partnership with Ameinu.* It was being led by a contingent of several dozen released hostages and hostage family members, and I would be marching up Fifth Avenue shoulder to shoulder with them, showing my support for them, and, importantly, leading the parade with them, a symbolic gesture to demonstrate that everyone else in the parade has their backs.

That was a message that spoke to me above anything else – above who would be marching after our group, above whatever anyone might be shouting from the sidelines. That was, to me, the most important way to show my love for Israel right now, and there was no way that far-right politicians or anyone else was going to take away my ability to raise my voice for the country that I love. I would show up, I would march, and I would do it on my terms.

And that’s just what I did. With an Israeli flag wrapped around my neck like a cape, and alongside a marching group that was 4,000 people strong (the largest ever in parade history), I carried signs that said both “Bring Them Home Now” and “Deal Now,” the latter a nod of support for the deal that President Biden had laid out just two days prior.

I was proud to carry both, which, together, echoed the rallying cry of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who had taken to the streets of Israel the night before – and who have continued to do so almost daily since – to call for the same thing.

This was, and always is, my Zionism: Showing up for the country I love, and for the people I love, not just despite the current leadership that is causing deep harm to both, but because of them.

Because I know that there is a better path forward for Israel, and because if I don’t show up and raise my voice alongside those who feel the same, we cede the very idea of Zionism to those who continue their efforts to take Israel in a completely different and abhorrent direction.

So to repeat the call that I made at the parade one more time: We need to bring the hostages home now, and we need a deal now.

We need a surge of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and reach its civilian population, who also deserve to go home and rebuild. Enough is enough. We need this war to end. At this point, it’s harming Israel and its security more than it’s helping, and it’s causing endless grief and devastation to Israelis and Palestinians alike. We need long-term, strategic and pragmatic thinking for what might come next, including a pathway to peace that delivers peace, security and freedom for all – and we need leaders strong enough and visionary enough to help get us there.

This is the very essence of my Zionism, and it’s why I proudly joined the parade again this year. In the years to come, I invite anyone who feels the same to join me.

*J Street, as a political organization, is not allowed to participate, but we encouraged our supporters to join this group.