08/23 Belmont Herald: Belmont still ‘No Place for Hate’

Belmont still ‘No Place for Hate’
Cassie Norton
Thu Aug 23, 2007, 02:04 PM EDT

Belmont, Mass. - Watertown’s unanimous decision to leave the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program over non-profit’s position on the death of hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens in the early 1900s may have a national impact.

Closer to home, Belmont’s leaders are discussing the repercussions of their neighbor’s stance.

“At this point [our position] is something to discuss,” selectman Paul Solomon said. “I am not ready say ‘Let’s tear down the signs.’”

Solomon said he “deplores” the ADL’s position on the Armenian genocide.

“A terrible thing occurred in the early 20th century in Armenia, whether you call it a genocide or not, and the Turkish government has never agreed that they were responsible,” he said. “It’s not clear that the ADL’s [refusal to label it a genocide] makes a lot of sense.”

The controversy began last month when the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, issued a letter stating that Congress should play no role in recognizing the Armenian Genocide as it debates House Resolution 106.

The resolution calls for the President to “ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing and the genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide.”

In an open letter to the New England Community on the ADL’s Web site, it states that it has “never denied the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians — and by some accounts more than one million — at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1918.”

It also states that “we believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106.”

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Foxman said he has come to the view that “the consequences of the actions [of the Ottoman Empire] were indeed tantamount to genocide.”

“If the word ‘genocide’ had existed then, they would have called it genocide,” he said.

But he reiterated that the he “continues to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.”

Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA, is co-sponsoring House Resolution 106 and encouraged the ADL to “reconsider its position and recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

“The Armenian Genocide is not a historic dispute or a rhetorical argument over semantics,” he wrote in a statement. “A true reckoning of history is essential, which is why I have long supported the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.”He said he commends the New England region “for its principled decision on this important issue.”

Watertown’s eight-member Town Council voted unanimously to leave the “No Place for Hate” program last week based on the ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide. Watertown, Belmont and surrounding towns have a thriving Armenian-American population that turned out 100-strong to support the town’s decision.

New England Regional Director Andrew Tarsy spoke in support of the ADL at that meeting, but in subsequent weeks struggled with his actions. On Aug. 16 he told Foxman he found the national organization’s position “morally indefensible,” according to the Boston Globe. Tarsy was fired on Aug. 18.

Now it’s time for Belmont to examine where the regional branch’s stance and the “No Place for Hate program fit in the national organization’s rhetoric, said Rep. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont.

“The town needs to sort out how No Place for Hate program relates to the national organization’s position and take appropriate action,” he said.

And the town intends to do just that. The Human Rights Commission, who originally proposed that Belmont join “No Place for Hate” more than two years ago, will discuss the issue at their Sept. 6 meeting.

“We have no official stance as a group until after we’ve had a chance to discuss it in a public meeting and with the residents,” said Human Right Commission chairman Laurie Graham. The HRC may hold a meeting before September, so the residents “can at least express their concerns.”

Pine Street resident Lenna Garibidian is one of those concerned residents. She is drafting a letter to the HRC with support from about 15 Armenian-American Belmont families who support withdrawing from the “No Place for Hate” program.

“The ADL position is hypocritical while they are preaching tolerance,” she said. “That sends the wrong message to the participants of the ‘No Place for Hate’ program.”

Graham said the program is “great for promoting tolerance of diversity in local communities,” and having to separate Belmont from the program would be “a tragedy.” Local groups would “make sure the intent of the program stays the same,” she said.

Angelo Firenze, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the situation will be included on the board’s agenda when the HRC reaches a resolution.

“When we voted to join ‘No Place for Hate,’ we wanted people to know that racism and hatred are not welcome in Belmont, and that position still stands,” he said.

Firenze said he didn’t want to say that either the ADL or the Armenian population was right or wrong.

“There’s clearly a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue,” he said.

Brownsberger disagreed, saying that he supports House Resolution 106 and that “the ADL is wrong.”

“It’s important for everyone to honestly face all the tragedies of the last century, including the Armenian Genocide,” he said. “It’s important to send a strong message that the town is concerned about all of the genocides” which have and might occur.

“No Place for Hate” aims to be a community-based campaign established by the ADL and geared to bring awareness to and fight against anti-Semitism, racism and all other forms of bigotry. Nearly 50 cities throughout the state are termed “No Place for Hate” zones, and participation is growing throughout the United States.

In its letter, the ADL calls for continued unity and mutual support in the face of what may be an unpopular position.

“In our almost seven decades in New England, we are proud of the community partnerships we have built and the results we have achieved working with thousands of organizations, elected officials and individuals committed to making this regions No Place for Hate,” it writes. “We cannot let one disagreement on how to proceed on one issue undermine all our joint good work.”

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/belmont/news/x676315824