The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization that brings together 157 local and regional Jewish federations and hundreds of other Jewish organizations in the U.S. and Canada, runs an annual contest to choose "Jewish Community Heroes." It slogan: "We honor those making strides to repair the world." Until Sept. 27 anyone could nominate candidates, and through Nov. 10 anyone - Jew or not - can vote at the contest website; in fact, you can vote as often as once a day, for any number of candidates. That process produces a list of 20 finalists, 10 professionals (people who work for community organizations) and 10 volunteers. From that group five judges appointed by the organization will select the winner and four other finalists. The winner gets $25,000, the other finalists $1,000 each.
This year supporters of Jewish Voice for Peace nominated both Rebecca Vilkomerson, the group's director, and Cecilie Surasky, its deputy director and editor of its important MuzzleWatch site, for the contest. Some of their admirers were carrying on a low-key campaign on behalf of Surasky in particular, and she was doing fairly well - in recent days she'd been number 10 in the professional category.
But on Thursday the JWeekly, a paper aimed at the Bay Area Jewish community, published an article profiling six candidates from northern California, including, in addition to Surasky, a student senator at University of California at Berkeley who helped block last year's divestment resolution and a professor at UC Santa Cruz who has gained a measure of celebrity by claiming that an anti-Israel climate on UC campuses threatens the rights and safety of Jewish students.
The article didn't especially demonize Surasky, but it included the observation that she "is the most controversial local nominee, given that many in the Jewish community view Jewish Voice for Peace, the Oakland-based organization, as fundamentally hostile to Israel."
The very next day, on the eve of Yom Kippur, Surasky's name abruptly disappeared from the contest's "leaderboard." When you go to the pages that once displayed brief profile of her and of Vilkomerson, you get a message saying "Oops. The page you are looking for cannot be found." In an eloquent commentary on her banishment, Surasky says she received no explanation.
The contest rules, however, include this provision: "Nominees are not eligible if they were nominated for a cause that runs directly counter to the ideals of The Jewish Federations of North America." Apparently the federations have suddenly concluded that JVP's ideals run counter to theirs. To that extent,unfortunately, they have a point.
On the other hand, as Surasky notes, one of the remaining candidates is a rabbi from St. Paul, MN, who wrote, in a published response to the question "How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?,"
The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).... I don’t believe in Western morality. Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.
This spiritual leader currently ranks no. 4 in the professionals category. Evidently the federations see no conflict between their values and his. Again, sad to say, they're probably right.
One note of interest to Mondoweiss readers: journalist Max Blumenthal remains on the nominee list, and anyone willing to provide an e-mail address and ZIP code can vote for him every day. As of this writing he has only 75 votes. What do you bet he'll be deleted once this post appears?