08/19 Metro West News: Independence needed to define 'hate'

By Frank Mazzaglia, Local columnist
Sun Aug 19, 2007, 12:23 AM EDT

Last week the Watertown Town Council voted 8-0 to terminate its relationship with the No Place for Hate program which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.

The vote was prompted by the indignation of Watertown's Armenian population over the ADL's refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide. The genocide took place between 1915 and 1923 when the Turks systematically killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians living under the Ottoman Empire.

Despite indisputable historical documentation, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge that dark period of its past.

Now it should be noted that anger comes in two forms. There's the kind of anger that flares up and then just as quickly fades and diminishes into nothingness. Then there is the kind of anger which not only lingers, but makes you even angrier the more you think about it. Unfortunately, the kind of anger being directed at the Anti-Defamation League these days falls into the latter category.

It's too bad too, because the ADL has done some terrific work since it was founded back in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism. Over the years the ADL earned respect by standing as an effective human rights organization and speaking out against bigotry wherever it reared its ugly head.

Now there are those who are wondering whether the time has come for a new and more independent anti-defamation organization without political strings to inhibit its decisions.

Hesitancy to speak out clearly about Turkey comes as a result of that country's close relationship with Israel and its strategic importance in the fight against terrorism. All of that may be true, but beside the point. Nation's do change. Modern Turkey's democratic government leaders have nothing in common with the tyrants of its past Ottoman Empire.

Decent people everywhere would be enraged to hear that efforts to enact U.S. legislation affecting Germany would be counterproductive to the goal of having Germany come to grips with its Nazi past. Yet, substitute the word Turkey for Germany and that is precisely the argument the ADL makes for standing silent on the matter of the Armenian genocide.

Although individual Jewish leaders have expressed sincere personal anguish, the ADL itself feels unfairly singled out since other Jewish organizations have taken similar stands concerning Turkey's role in the genocide. There is, of course, an obvious difference. Those other organizations are not specifically organized to fight discrimination.

Watertown's sharp rebuke may be just the beginning of ADL's troubles. Other communities are now questioning whether they want to continue the No Place for Hate program so long as it is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. That would be a shame since the No Place for Hate program has a value worth maintaining in some troubled communities.

Whatever happens, one thing is clear. The reputation of the ADL has been indelibly stained by this self-inflicted wound. Sure, every organization makes mistakes, but sometimes serious errors can cripple an organization's future effectiveness. The ADL would do well, even at this late hour, to replace its personal anguish with justice.

There is a powerful lesson here. The need obviously exists for a more authentic and independent civil rights organization whose leadership is comprised of people representing all faiths, races, and ethnic backgrounds. This would be a bold effort to stand up against hate and defamation regardless of political consequences.

The seed for such a national organization has already been planted in Watertown. It could be the spark to light up a new and exciting movement. Hopefully, the time and energy needed to fight the No Place for Hate program in other communities will be used instead to create a new and powerful anti-discrimination organization. Corporate America may well provide the resources to insure independence.

Can it be done? Judging from the outcry of people from so many diverse backgrounds, all that's needed now is the will to get it done.

Frank Mazzaglia can be reached at fmazzaglia@aol.com