Jewish Federations of North America purges top vote-getting Jewish Hero nominee
Jewish Voice for Peace leader who supports nonviolent efforts to pressure Israel to end its illegal occupation is out- but Rabbi who openly advocated for death of Arab men, women and children is still in.
Purge symbolic of larger generational struggle within Jewish world
Contacts, cecilie AT jvp.org
David Basior, davebasior AT gmail.com
[New York, October 11, 2011] Jewish Voice for Peace, whose divestment policy was accurately described by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times as "support[ing] divestment campaigns against companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories," decries the sudden removal on Erev (Eve of) Yom Kippur of its deputy director, Cecilie Surasky, from a list of nominees for the Jewish Federation of North America’s “Jewish Community Heroes” competition. At the time of the removal, Surasky had been moving back and forth between 9th and 10th place in the competition for Professional Heroes, having garnered nearly 1,500 votes. The top ten nominees advance to the judged semifinal round.
Jewish Federations of North America is an umbrella group representing 157 community-based Jewish Federations and over 300 "Network communities" that has been running a highly publicized open competition requesting nominations and votes for Jewish Heroes. The tagline is “We honor those making strides to repair the world.”
Surasky was nominated by rabbinical student David Basior, who says that Surasky’s “brilliant work engages hundreds of thousands of activists who have found Jewish community via activism and justice-seeking. Her removal is an attempt to whitewash the true range of opinion in the Jewish community despite all contrary evidence of its diversity. This engineering of arbitrary divisions will fail.”
Shortly after 9-30-11, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) altered the competition’s rules, posted on their website, establishing a new rule that they used to nullify Surasky’s candidacy, and as it turns out other candidacies, including those of the executive director of JVP, Rebecca Vilkomerson and academic Norman Finkelstein. (Current rules with new addition highlighted are here.) The JFNA claimed in a statement that JVP’s support for non-violent efforts to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is an affront to the JFNA’s mission.
Last week, we removed Cecile (sic) as a nominee in this contest. Cecile was removed because the nomination was based on her efforts for Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization whose support for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement against Israel runs directly counter to the mission of The Jewish Federations of North America.
Jewish Voice for Peace, which engages in selective boycott/divestment campaigns focused on the occupation, considers the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement a legitimate non-violent strategy to pressure Israel to operate within the boundaries of international law, modeled after similar tactics successfully used during the civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement.
The real target of controversy should be the candidacy of Rabbi Manis Friedman of the Minnesota Twin Cities. Rabbi Friedman went on written record in 2009 advocating “the Jewish way” to fight a war against Arabs: “Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).” People who know him well assert that these are the rabbi’s real beliefs, in spite of the partial backtrack he tendered when his statement was rightly widely condemned. Rabbi Friedman is currently in 4th place in the Jewish Community Heroes competition.
The disqualification of Surasky’s and others' candidacies prompted condemnations by various Jewish bloggers such as Mitchell Plitnick, Richard Silverstein, and Henry Norr. It also resulted in a flood of letters from outraged Jewish Heroes competition voters, some of them current Jewish Federation donors, who understand the purge as symbolic of a struggle within the Jewish world. It is just the newest example in a long history of the Jewish Establishment trying to ban any evidence of a counter-narrative about Israel from the Jewish public square.
Ironically, Surasky is the creator of the blog Muzzlewatch which documents such examples- ranging from the refusal of the Brandeis Hillel to accept a student chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, to a recent successful Federation, Jewish Community Relations Council and Anti-Defamation League campaign to stop a Bay Area children’s museum from exhibiting artwork by children from war-torn Gaza.
In her blog post on the nullification of her candidacy, Surasky writes, "Disappearing JVP’s/my nomination is the perfect metaphor for an older generation’s fearful attempt to disappear an entire generation. Their children and certainly grandchildren are increasingly embracing the values of equality, going to the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem to see for themselves the horror wrought by the illegal occupation and a dream built in many ways on the backs of Palestinians.”
Prominent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, journalist Max Blumenthal remains on the nominee list.