08/21 Watertown Tab: Newton considers severing ADL ties

By Chrissie Long, Staff Writer
GateHouse News Service
Tue Aug 21, 2007, 06:00 PM EDT

Newton -
Newton Corner resident David Boyajian ignited a national controversy when he wrote a letter to a newspaper last month.

His letter to the Watertown TAB & Press prompted officials in that city to withdraw from a two-year partnership with the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program. The effect of the letter was exacerbated when the head of the local ADL branch was fired for ultimately agreeing with Watertown’s position and several board members resigned.

Now, the same discussion has entered Newton, with members of the city’s Human Rights Commission and others debating whether the city should also break its ties to the national ADL.

“What will happen [to Newton’s No Place for Hate], I wouldn’t know until we have our full discussion,” said Marianne Ferguson, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, who expected to begin discussion at an Aug. 21 meeting (scheduled to take place after the TAB’s deadline). “I don’t want to speak for the commission because we haven’t had a full discussion.”

Newton adopted the No Place for Hate program in 1999 in an effort to align itself with a national campaign for tolerance and a fight against anti-Semitism, racism and all other forms of bigotry.

But the program came under question this summerwhen residents learned that the national director of the parent organization — the Anti-Defamation League — refused to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Boyajian pointed to an April 21 article in the Los Angeles Times “Genocide resolution still far from certain” that reported that the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, opposes congressional affirmation of the genocide.

Watertown’s Town Council voted unanimously on Aug. 14 to sever ties with the No Place for Hate program. Two days later, Andrew H. Tarsy, the ADL’s New England regional director who had defended the ADL’s position just days earlier, broke ranks with the national groups and said the ADL should acknowledge the genocide. One day after that, Tarsy was fired.

In a carefully-worded statement released Tuesday, Foxman seemed to soften his stance on the issue, saying that the “consequences” of the actions of the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians were “tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.”

But Foxman still refused to support legislation recognizing the genocide.

Foxman’s latest statement isn’t good enough for Boyajian.

“Genocides need to be officially recognized and put in the public sphere to at least help prevent future genocides,” said Boyajian, an Armenian-American. “The national ADL is lobbying against Armenian genocide legislation in Congress. They need to stop working against congressional resolutions and start working for them.”

Congressman Barney Frank, D-4th, a core sponsor of the Armenian Genocide bill, expressed his disappointment in Foxman’s comments.

“I think they made a mistake,” Frank told the TAB. “I am very disappointed with the national ADL, and I am proud of New England’s reaction.”

The Armenian Genocide bill, House Bill 106, which was proposed in January, would ensure that the United States foreign policy reflects that the Armenian genocide did in fact exist. The bill is currently in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. There’s a similar bill in the Senate.

Historians have long recognized the Armenian genocide as a campaign waged against ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman government during and after World War I. Between 1915 and 1923, as many as 1.5 million Armenians died.

“This is a matter of historic truth,” said state Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Newton. “To call it a slaughter or a massacre does not in anyway reflect what a genocide is.”

But whether Newton decides to sever ties with No Place for Hate is still under question.

Boyajian, who supports No Place for Hate, would like to see communities continue to operate such programs, but wants to see municipalities break any relationships with the larger ADL organization.

“We are asking for local No Place for Hate programs to sever their ties with ADL until ADL openly acknowledges the Armenian genocide and supports congressional affirmation of this crime against humanity,” Boyajian said, indicating that his stance is outlined by the www.noplacefordenial.com Web site.

Prior to the release of Foxman’s statement Tuesday, Mayor David Cohen sent a letter to Foxman asking him to “reinstate” Tarsy and to recognize the genocide.

“Specifically, I call on you to reverse the national ADL position and recognize the World War I genocide perpetrated against the Armenian people. Furthermore, I call on you to reinstate Mr. Tarsy,” Cohen wrote.

At his press conference Monday, Cohen affirmed Newton’s commitment to a No Place for Hate-like program, even if the city were to break ties with the ADL.

“Whether or not Newton decides to remain a No Place for Hate community will in no way alter the hard work being done to promote tolerance and peace in our city every day of the year,” he said during his press conference Monday. “… Advocates for peace and social justice throughout the city will continue to plan and carry out programs and events that will unite the people in Newton against hate.”

Newton resident Steve Grossman, a former board member of the regional ADL, suggested that communities wait before severing ties with No Place for Hate or ADL.

“I would recommend that communities hold off in making abrupt decisions, pending a change in national ADL policy,” he said. “If the national ADL does not change policy, some of these cities and towns will have no choice in ending the relationship. The moral disconnect may be too much for people to absorb.”

According to Grossman, Foxman is visiting Boston Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with regional staff. Grossman hopes that the visit will result in a changed stance.

For many observers, accepting the title “Armenian genocide” is not good enough. Foxman would have to support the congressional resolution, something he declined to do Tuesday.

“We continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between the Turks and the Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States,” Foxman said in the statement.

The ADL was founded in 1913 to stop any defamation of Jewish people and “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and it put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.”

Visit www.NewtonTAB.com for the most recent story.
Chrissie Long can be reached at clong@cnc.com.