Several days ago, the Jewish Federations of North America unceremoniously and without explanation dumped Cecilie Surasky from it’s Jewish Heroes competition, where she was running neck and neck with Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman, whose claim to fame is that he told Moment Magazine he supported the killing of Palestinian civilians in war.
JTA now provides a justification for JFNA’s inexplicable behavior. A staff member explained, though this is nowhere specified in the online page devoted to the rules for the competition, that the poll is meant to support Israel and since JVP allegedly supports BDS, that makes Cecilie treif:
“A central value of The Jewish Federations of North America is to support Israel, and the Jewish Heroes rules preclude us from accepting any nominees whose aims run counter to that mission,” Joe Berkofsky, the Federations’ managing director of communications, said in a statement.
“Our Israel Action Network is working to challenge the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement and other efforts to isolate and weaken the Jewish state. We cannot therefore support a group that seeks to harm Israel through its support for BDS.”
Here are the rules as specified on the Heroes website:
…This is our opportunity to celebrate the individuals who dedicate their lives to helping others…
We encourage you to nominate Heroes from all walks of life—the neighbor running nonprofit bake sales, a volunteer who serves the elderly at a local retirement home, a teacher building a school for the underserved, the community organizer bringing people together.
The essential criteria [for winning] will be:
- The nominee shows exceptional qualities and commitment in line with the mission of The Jewish Federations of North America, strengthening the Jewish community, and the ideals of tikkun olam.
- The nominee complies with the rules of the Jewish Community Heroes campaign.
Nothing about BDS. Nothing about Israel. Nothing about any political issue. As far as the rules are concerned it’s an open competition.
So the JFNA statement offered to JTA is a nice bit of ex post facto hocus pocus, which is unworthy of any fair or reputable non profit organization. In fact, if she’s up for it I’d urge Cecilie to consider convening a Beit Din to adjudicate her complaint. It’s outrageous to prepare rules for a competition, and when something undesirable happens you change the rules in the midst of the voting.
In fact, what this PR flack is arguing is that there is an additional layer of unstated rules to which the candidates and competition have to adhere, that is, the Federation’s values (themselves unstated) which support Israel and oppose BDS.
I have stopped giving to my local Jewish federation for various reasons that are more economic than philosophical. But this schande doesn’t persuade me to change my mind.
One thing that does shock me is that no one has nominated any one from Stand With Us. Doesn’t the Jewish community believe that the group is doing heroic work on Israel’s behalf?
There are two good candidates in the running who I’ve voted for and would recommend. Though perhaps saying this publicly may even get my individual vote disqualified. They are Max Blumenthal and Rabbi Stuart Light. The Republican Jewish Coalition has gotten wind of this and will likely torpedo Max’s candidacy as well. I guess Cecilie and Max can’t be Jewish heroes in the insular world of Jewish federations. Yet another reason why the organized Jewish community is rendering itself increasingly irrelevant.
A warning is also in order, voting in the Heroes competition will automatically add you to its mailing list. There seems no option for opting out of it, which seems annoying.
Yesterday, I used Cecilie’s treatment at the hands of JFNA as a perfect example of how the affiliated Jewish community is circling the wagons and choosing only to deal with those within the increasingly narrow band of political consensus. Instead of reaching out to all Jews who care about being Jewish and including them wherever possible, the Jewish leadership uses litmus tests to determine who’s worthy of entrance to the Holy of Holies of Jewish life. This sort of thing turns Jews off, especially young Jews who look at our community and wonder why they should be involved at all. In their world, there is so much freedom and openness to affiliate with whoever you want, to learn about any ideas you like, to consort with any person you find interesting. How’re you keep these young Jews down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris, to quote an old WWI slogan?
Unfortunately, we Jews have a long history of banishing those who violate community standards. The Jews of Amsterdam did it to one of the greatest philosophers in history, Baruch Spinoza. But cherems don’t work these days. There are too many options for Jews to choose from outside the community. If you don’t want these Jews, they’ll go somewhere else and leave you alone crying in your beer about why all the good Jews are opting out, marrying out, etc.
I’ve reviewed JVP’s policies concerning BDS and it very specifically does not include support of any action that would harm Israel directly (or even indirectly for that matter). It supports only divestment from, and boycott of companies that support or sustain Israel’s Occupation. That is all.
What do you expect of a group that funnels most of its money to settlement efforts like Nefesh b’nefesh, Birthright programs, political money for the pro-Israel lobby, and the like?
I don’t expect anything from the Jewish Federations, which is why I stopped giving to them. If you want to support something worthwhile, and do it Jewishly, support your local Jewish programs (synagogues, camps, subsidized tuition at Hebrew schools, etc.) independently (not through the federation) and if you want to give money to a good cause in Israel, donate to B’Tselem or the New Israel Fund or any number of progressive Jewish organizations that are struggling to preserve what’s left of Israel’s “democracy.”
Screw the Federations. All they do is bring everybody tsuris.
“A central value of The Jewish Federations of North America is to support Israel…”
In much the same way that those who fought Jim Crow were supporting the American South, those who seek to “End the Occupation” (per Cecilie’s shirt) are supporting Israel and are Israel’s true friends.
Exactly. BDS attacks the illegalities of the occupation and Israel’s other refusals to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law. It does not attack Israel per se. Loves the sinner but hates the sin, so to speak.
Reminds me of Israel’s orthodox community trying (unsuccessfully) to block Emil Habiby from winning Israel’s top literature prize 20 years ago. The prize was open to all residents of Israel — but Emil, a member of the Knesset, was of course Palestinian.