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Could Boycotting the Israel Day Parade Help Defeat BDS?

Could a controversial protest by one Manhattan rabbi mark a watershed moment in fighting boycotters within the Jewish community?
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 5/28/2014, 2:33 PM

Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie
Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie
Arutz Sheva

With just days to go before the 50th annual Israel Day Parade in Manhattan, New York, America's pro-Israel organizations and Jewish institutions are gearing up for the yearly mega-demonstration of Zionism and Jewish pride, rivaled perhaps only by the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington D.C.

Well, nearly all of them. 

Apart from the usual gaggle of anti-Zionist fringe groups who shun the parade altogether for ideological reasons, one mainstream New York rabbi and his congregation will be sitting the event out this year as well, for an altogether different reason.

Although Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie - a leading voice within the city's Sephardic Jewish community and a vocal activist for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries - will be attending Sunday's pro-Israel extravaganza, he and his supporters will not be marching as they do every year. The unprecedented semi-boycott of the Israel Day Parade is Rabbi Abadie's protest against the inclusion of several far-left groups, including some who support the boycott of Jewish businesses and organizations in Judea and Samaria.

The controversy first hit the headlines some two months ago, when the New York-based activist group JCC Watch revealed that at least three radical left-wing groups would be taking part in the Parade, despite supporting a "limited" application of calls for boycotts divestment and sanctions against Israel (known as BDS). 

Those groups were named as Partners for Progressive Israel, whose website offers a list of Jewish-made products to boycott; the New Israel Fund (NIF), which finances several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which support the BDS movement and have taken active steps to encourage others to divest or boycott Israel; and well-known radical-left group B'Tselem, which has been accused of encouraging provocations against IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians, and produced an infamous video for "Israel Apartheid Week." 

Anger over their inclusion threatened to mushroom into an all-out crisis and a serious headache for parade organizers, as several groups called to boycott the event until those three groups were excluded. A coalition of incensed pro-Israel groups held a symbolic "100 Shofar protest" in April in front of the UJA-Federation Building in Manhattan to condemn the Federation's refusal to give pro-BDS groups the boot.

Speaking to Arutz Sheva Tuesday, Rabbi Abadie - the Lebanese-born founding rabbi of Manhattan's prominent Edmond J Safra Synagogue - clarified that he was not boycotting the entire parade per sa, but staging a public protest at the inclusion of groups "that are slightly anti-Zionist, that are undermining the State of Israel and undermining the Jewish people."

He said the inclusion of such organizations was actually nothing new, and that he sent a letter to organizers "several years ago" urging them to bar them from taking part. It was only after his - and others' - appeals fell of deaf ears that he resorted to his public, and somewhat controversial, protest.

Rabbi Abadie rejected claims that encouraging Zionist groups to boycott the parade was divisive, or would backfire by simply ceding more ground to radical anti-Zionist elements. He responded by pointing out that many other pro-Israel voices would still be taking part this year to counter the narratives of far-left groups, and that, more importantly, his stand had inspired a wider movement to push for their exclusion from next year's parade.

"They thought it was too late to do much about it this year," he said of the decision by most other participating groups, who he insists share his position in principle.

"However, we have the support of all those... communal institutions that they will be waiting and trying to work very hard to make sure that next year those organizations that support BDS will not march."