08/22 Lexington Minuteman: Anti-Defamation League urged to reconsider stance

By Ian B. Murphy and Shauna Staveley/Staff Writers
GateHouse News Service
Wed Aug 22, 2007, 07:25 PM EDT

Lexington -
A political firestorm over the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915 ripped through neighboring communities this week, but Lexington’s No Place For Hate committee, which is sponsored by the ADL, remains silent because several members are on vacation.

Last week, Watertown cut its ties to No Place For Hate after intense pressure from its sizeable Armenian community, and on Monday Arlington’s No Place For Hate committee voted unanimously to suspend its ties to the ADL after the organization continued to work with the Turkish government in Congress to deny the murder of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918.

“Everyone in the committee felt clearly as the Watertown (program ending), and following stories (about the controversy) were happening that we had to do something about this,” said Cindy Friedman, chairwoman of the Arlington No Place for Hate Committee. “We didn’t want to wait and not respond.”

Friedman said the committee analyzed and discussed an array of information, including a written letter from the Armenian community and Arlington activists, as well as gathered information on the ADL.

Another influential occurrence was a reported divide in perspective between the regional and national ADL leaders. According to published reports, two New England board members resigned after New England Regional Director Andrew Tarsy was fired over his push to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

“At the very least, the ADL can acknowledge the New England Regional chapter and their stance — to call the genocide a genocide,” Friedman said. “And I think they should reinstate Andrew Tarsy. They should reinstate whom they fired, call it a genocide and support the position of the New England chapter. That’s what they could do.”

Tuesday afternoon, the ADL released a statement in an attempt to save some face under growing pressure from both Armenian and Jewish communities, according to Lexington’s Alan Seferian, an Armenian-American and Town Meeting member who has been following the developments.

“What is forcing this change on the ADL is not the Armenians but the national Jewish community who stood up and said ‘This is wrong what you’re doing,’” said Seferian. “The ADL has lost its moral authority to tell people not to hate, and it hasn’t quite regained it yet.”

In a statement, National Director of the ADL Abraham H. Foxman said “on reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., that the consequences of those actions (on 1915-1918) were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.”

Bob Wolfson, the ADL Associate National Director for Regional Operations, said he hoped this would start the healing process of the Armenian Community.

“The Watertown action was based on the notion that we were denying the genocide, which we never did,” Wolfson said. “The use of that term was problematic for very complicated political reasons, so we decided to change our policy and use the term. And I believe and hope the Armenian community will applaud it and I hope the good work with the program in places like Arlington will continue.”

The problem for residents, however, is the bottom paragraph of the “ADL Statement on the Armenian Genocide,” where Foxman stated the following about congressional resolutions such as 106:

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

Seferian said that the release didn’t do much to fix the problems the ADL has created.

“Not only did [Foxman] qualify it by saying tantamount to genocide … but they’re still collaborating with the Turkish government to deny it in Congress,” said Seferian.

Attempts to contact members of the Lexington No Place For Hate community were unsuccessful before deadline. Hank Manz, the selectmen liaison to No Place For Hate, said he had received no communication from committee members, but sent a brief personal statement to the Minuteman via e-mail.

“There are many examples of parent organizations sometimes frustrating local chapters with work done at the national level, but that does not remove the need to comment on that fact when it happens,” said Manz. “I applaud the steps the national leadership of the ADL has taken so far to correct their actions in firing a local official. I hope that they continue their reexamination of their position on the Armenian genocide so that No Place for Hate can continue to contribute to our community.”