08/25 Jewish Journal: North Shore Leaders Weigh In on ADL

North Shore Leaders Weigh In on ADL

Bette Keva
Jewish Journal Staff

Before the national Anti Defamation League announced that it had changed its position on the Armenian genocide on Tuesday, New England regional leaders were holding meetings to decide what to do.

In one week, a number of events unfolded. The Town Council of Watertown, home to 8,000 Armenians, voted unanimously to severe ties with the ADL’s No Place For Hate program. Residents said it was untenable to display the posters and be involved with the organization when it had taken a hypocritical stance on the Armenian tragedy.

ADL New England regional director Andrew Tarsey first defended the ADL’s position and then changed his stance, saying there was an Armenian genocide. He was then fired by the ADL. Two New England regional board members quit in protest over the national ADL stance and in solidarity with Tarsy.

Jewish organizations and individuals also began speaking out, urging the national ADL to change its position on the Armenian issue and in support of Tarsy.

New England Regional Board Chairman James Rudolph called a board meeting and was planning to discuss the worsening situation on Wednesday, August 22. In an e-mail to the North Shore ADL Advisory Board, Rudolph wrote, “We will all know more in the next few days about the future of ADL in New England after our Regional Board meeting this Wednesday morning.”

“There are many of us who would like to see the ADL change the national policy on this issue,” Rudolph told the Journal.

Ruth Thomasian, executive director of Project SAVE Armenia Photograph Archives, and a Watertown resident said she had encouraged residents to break with the ADL only for 90 days during which “we would petition them to change their position. We felt strongly about No Place For Hate. It’s a wonderful program and we wanted to continue it.” But others who demanded an immediate break with the ADL and the program prevailed because the town “couldn’t justify the hypocrisy of it and [the No Place For Hate sign] staying up for 90 days,” Thomasian said.

By the time people left the town council meeting [on April 14], the Department of Public Works had already removed the sign from the town square.

Around the North Shore, before Foxman changed his position, residents interviewed here spoke as if with one voice, opposing the national position and encouraging the ADL to rethink it.

Neal Goldman, past chairman of the ADL Advisory Committee of the North Shore, called the ADL’s initial position hypocritical. “As an organization that focuses on teaching tolerance, the ADL must hold itself to the highest standards,” Goldman said. “In this case, the national ADL has fallen way short. I urge the ADL to rethink and change its position about Andy Tarsy and its position [against] recognizing the Armenian genocide,” Goldman added. “Firing Andy about speaking out about injustice is the worst hypocrisy for the ADL. I’m emotional about this. I think they are wrong.”

Swampscott resident Robert Powell, who is half Armenian, is married to a Jewish woman, Amy Sessler Powell, and they are raising their children Jewish.

“We are a unique family,” Robert Powell said. “We have two cultures that have suffered genocide.” For an anti-bigotry organization to refuse to acknowledge a genocide “is almost to make a mockery of their mission statement. If they can’t be for anti-hate, then how can they accomplish their mission? “If the ADL cannot acknowledge that other human beings in this world are victims of genocide, from a global perspective, why should I pay them any heed?” Powell said. “Rwanda, Darfur, what’s the difference? They are all products of hate. It’s hate for another culture. It’s an issue of politicking. It’s so obvious and blatant.”

Powell — who is on the Board of Overseers of the Jewish Journal — said the ADL is trying to preserve a relationship with Turkey, which has never admitted the genocide. But Turkey isn’t a Jewish-friendly nation and does not have a good human rights record.

“Is it possible that Jews [in Turkey] would be hurt by what the ADL says?” Powell asked. “Maybe, but it’s a stretch.” Armenia is about the same size as Israel, but “there is no way that it wields the same power as Israel does or that Jews do in America. Our plight is a lone fight . . . [and yet] it’s inconceivable that we don’t share the same philosophy and dreams.”

For Holocaust survivor Sonia Weitz, co-founder of the Holocaust Center Boston North, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman’s stance hits close to home.

“To me, denial of any genocide is very personal,” Weitz said. “I can’t imagine what Abe Foxman was thinking. I was hoping that he was misquoted. This is politics. Turkey is the only [Muslim] friend that Israel has.

“There’s no bigger supporter of Israel than I am, but I wouldn’t ever deny that Armenians suffered a genocide, Weitz said. As a member of Peabody’s No Place For Hate committee, she wondered aloud before the ADL changed its stance, “How am I going to face these people?” However, she said she would not consider discontinuing the No Place For Hate program as Watertown did.

“The ADL does so much good,” Weitz said. “I don’t see how I would break from the ADL. I think Watertown will rethink it too.”

Rabbi Howard Kosovske applauded Andrew Tarsy’s stance in opposition to the ADL. Kosovske said the late mayor Peter Torigian’s drive to celebrate Peabody’s many cultures and ethnic groups made the city an exciting place in which to live. Torigian, an Armenian whose mother was a survivor of the genocide, had often staged a citywide commemoration of the April Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) along with the remembrance of the Armenian genocide, April 24.

Kosovske urged the Turkish government to own up to the genocide as Germany has done for the Holocaust. Admit it happened and “it’s out in the sun; it’s part of everyone’s consciousness. It has to be done. Are the children of the Turks guilty? No, but own up to it and it will never happen again.”

Source: http://www.jewishjournal.org/archives/archiveAug24_07.html