JFNA bumps BDS backer from Heroes contest


NEW YORK (JTA) — The Jewish Federations of North America bumped a leader of a Jewish pro-Palestinian group from its Jewish Community Heroes competition.

Cecilie Surasky, the deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, was removed because her organization is a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting investment in Israel, JFNA officials said. Jewish Voice for Peace acknowledges being part of the BDS movement but says it supports only campaigns targeting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Surasky had received 1,462 online votes out of more than 100,000 cast — within the top 10 at the time she was removed. In the competition, the public nominates and votes for the top 10 in two categories, and then a panel of judges chooses the winner, who gets a $25,000 grant toward the community project of his or her choice. Four runners-up each receive grants of $1,000.

"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."

But Jewish Voice for Peace said JFNA added that rule about the mission only after nominations were closed.

In response, Berkofsky pointed out to JTA that the original rules stated that JFNA officials "reserve the right to modify the rules and award-allocation process and award amounts during the course of the event as they see fit," and that "The JFNA also reserves the right to not post entries it deems inappropriate or outside the spirit of the campaign."

Surasky on her blog criticized the Jewish Federations for her removal from the competition. She also rapped the group for retaining Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Manis Friedman of Minnesota in the contest, pointing to the rabbi’s widely criticized 2009 comments in Moment Magazine in which he called for the destruction of Arab holy sites, as well as the killing of “men, women, and children [and cattle],” as “the Jewish way” to fight “moral war.”

A prominent Chabad rabbi, Friedman later retracted his statement, calling it “irresponsible,” and suggested he was referring to the use of human shields to protect attackers. Friedman stands in fourth place in the Jewish Heroes contest.

This is the third year of the Jewish Heroes competition. Last year’s winner was Jay Feinberg of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation.

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