(June 4, 2018 / Israel Hayom) Thousands of revelers flooded New York City’s Times Square on Sunday to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary in a festive event organized by the Consulate General of Israel in New York and Israel’s Culture and Sport Ministry.
The event, a massive street party, was led by a lineup of top Israeli performers and prominent politicians from both countries. The area, in the heart of New York City, was cordoned off for several hours.
The highlight of the event was when the square’s famous giant screens began displaying clips about Israel. One of the clips, which was broadcast on a loop, focused on various Israeli sites, the Jewish state’s achievements, and the special bond between Israel and the United States.
The screens also displayed video messages from several prominent American politicians and Hollywood stars, including Mayim Bialik, Liev Schreiber and Michael Douglas. Israeli singer Shiri Maimon, who was recently cast as the star of the Broadway musical Chicago, was one of the Israeli performers at the event.
The special celebration required a massive security undertaking on the part of the New York Police Department. Some 1,000 officers were tasked with keeping the area free from threats. To prevent ramming attacks, garbage trucks filled with sand were placed on the streets leading up to the square.
Despite concerns of potential clashes with pro-Palestinian groups, only a handful of protesters, belonging to the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox group Neturei Karta, showed up.
Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan told Israel Hayom that the event marked a high point in his years of service as Israel’s envoy. “We are in New York, the world’s capital after Jerusalem, and the largest Jewish city outside Israel,” said Dayan. “We are celebrating the miracle called the State of Israel with U.S. Jews. This is a dream come true.”
Dayan said that when he first heard the plan to “take over” Times Square for a celebration of Israel, he was incredulous. “But then we joined forces with the Culture and Sport Ministry and with Minister Miri Regev; we achieved the unthinkable. Miri is just unstoppable; no one can stand in her way,” he said.
Dayan added that the sensitive nature of the event presented a significant security challenge. “We were at times concerned that it would be called off; I was worried that security officials would force us to cancel the entire thing,” he said.
At one point, he said he was told that the Israeli authorities had ordered high-ranking Israeli officials to avoid taking part in the event. Dayan’s security detail immediately put forth a set of new demands to make sure security would meet the various concerns. To their surprise, the NYPD agreed to accommodate the Israeli requests, and a green light was given to hold the mega event.
“We have been fostering good ties with the authorities and the police department for years,” said Dayan. “No other Israeli consulate has such good ties with the local police, and it shows,” he said.
He noted that Israelis should celebrate even more intensely to demonstrate that they are not deterred by Gaza fence provocations in recent weeks. “We must celebrate precisely because we are going through a hard time,” said Dayan.
Regev, who was the Israeli government’s main representative at the event, told Israel Hayom that “this event has great meaning, not just for me but also for the State of Israel.”
She noted that “Times Square is never cordoned off, only once a year on New Year’s Eve. This is the first time in history that such an event has the square sealed—and for whom? For the State of Israel, to salute the State of Israel. The place is a bustling economic and cultural nerve center; having the accomplishments of this tiny country displayed on its massive screens is uplifting and makes me proud and happy for having had the opportunity to lead this effort.” She praised the NYPD for making “tremendous efforts” to ensure the event was carried out smoothly.
The event was attended by members of Congress, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials. “The authorities were taken aback by our request, they asked, ‘Why hold this here?’ But we insisted because this place is part of the message we want to convey,” she said.
Apart from Regev and Dayan, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon was also present, as were Aliyah and Integration Minister Sofa Landver, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, and Knesset members Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union), Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Nurit Koren (Likud).
Danon said it was a good way to end a dramatic week in which Israel was once again attacked at the United Nations. “We had a very intense week. On Friday, we were at the U.N. Security Council until 6 p.m.; U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and I defended Israel—and now, two days later, we see the love and support for Israel,” he said.
He said that beyond his personal feelings, the celebrations were “an important message to the people of Israel. We always talk about how many enemies Israel has, and the efforts to boycott it, and how everyone is against us—but we have very good friends, we must not be intimidated, and we must believe in our friends and go with our truth.”
Danon said that the U.S.-Israel stance at the United Nations shows that Israel’s standing is getting better.
“We are changing the rules of the game,” he said. “First, there was the delegation of 40 ambassadors that arrived in Israel with me on Independence Day, and then there is Haley’s stance at the U.N. All this shows that we are not only on the defense but also taking a proactive posture, and this is all the more apparent today on the streets, with dozens of ambassadors from around the world marching down Fifth Avenue and arriving at Times Square.”
The Times Square event was preceded by the annual “Celebrate Israel” parade, with tens of thousands marching down Fifth Avenue, including de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Danon, who marched with a group of dozens of ambassadors, said he was “pleased to launch a new tradition of having a large number of ambassadors march with us in the biggest pro-Israel demonstration in the world.”
He said that it was “heartwarming to see so much support overseas among Israel’s friends overseas in these difficult times.”