09/06 Jewish Advocate: Foxman was right the first time

Foxman was right the first time

By Tom Mountain - Saturday October 13 2007

The nearly century-old dispute over the Armenian tragedy of World War I had nothing to do with the Anti-Defamation League, and therefore the Jewish organization was a disinterested party, not obliged to take a public stand or even offer public comment.

His subsequent firing of Andrew Tarsy, ADL’s New England Regional Director, was also the right move at the right time.

Had Mr. Foxman stiffened his resolve and stayed the course, the whole controversy, ignited and fanned in Boston, would have stayed in Boston, and gradually fizzled out on the local level.
Yet Mr. Foxman, by reversing himself on both counts, has discredited his office, damaged the international reputation of the ADL, diminished the stature of the Jewish lobby, created a rift between the Israeli government and the American Jewish leadership, needlessly antagonized an important ally of both the United States and Israel, instigated an uproar in the Turkish press, embarrassed the Israeli government, jeopardized the precarious Israeli-Turkish relations, alienated the Turkish Jewish community, and bolstered extremist Moslem demagogues in the fragile Turkish democracy.

In short, Mr. Foxman, by publicly declaring the World War I Turkish aggression against the Anatolian Turkish Armenians to be “tantamount to genocide,” has created a serious diplomatic rift between Israel and Turkey, the only ally that the Jewish state has in the Near East. And the only Muslim friend that Israel can turn to.

To gauge the seriousness of the fallout consider that the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, summoned the Israeli Ambassador to Turkey, Pinchas Avivi, to Ankara, where he proceeded to lecture him, “It is a great disappointment for us, who gave support to the Jews for centuries … Our bilateral relations will suffer from such a decision.”

The Turkish Ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, was recalled from vacation to Ankara for high level meetings with the Turkish Foreign Ministry. He was then dispatched to Israel where he bluntly rebuked his Israeli counterparts, “If you want to touch and hurt the hearts of the people in Turkey, this is the issue.” Mr. Tan summarily dismissed the pleas from Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, who claimed they can’t rein in their American Jewish brethren.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry then issued a formal protest, “We see this statement as an unfortunate one that is unjust to the Holocaust, which has no precedent, and to its victims. And we expect it to be corrected.”

Silvio Ovadio, leader of the Turkish Jewish community, publicly condemned the ADL in the Turkish Press, “We have difficulty understanding the ADL’s position on this matter.” So did prominent Turkish Jewish businessman Jak Kamhi.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, placed an emergency call last week to Israeli President Shimon Peres, as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Mr. Foxman and the ADL then tried to placate the Turkish government by informing them that the ADL would not support the proposed Congressional resolution declaring the Armenian tragedy a genocide, but then he further insulted the Turks by publicly stating that the small Turkish Jewish community “may be at risk” if the ADL supported the resolution.

Mr. Foxman then came to Boston, rehired Mr. Tarsy, and declared that it was time to move on.
There is no doubt that Mr. Tarsy took what he believed to be a principled stand by declaring the Armenian tragedy a genocide, yet the local pressure on him to do so was immense. The lightening rod in all of this was actually the not-so-camera-shy Mayor of Newton, David Cohen, who threatened to withdraw Newton from the Boston ADL’s No Place For Hate program. If Newton had pulled out, other communities could’ve fallen like dominos, thus sealing the fate of the entire program.

By continuously steering the local ADL in a leftward direction to such feel-good non-Jewish causes as No Place For Hate, eventually some disenchanted group would start making demands that ran counter to Jewish interests. This time it was the Armenians. And despite the protests of everyone from major Jewish organizations to the Israeli government to the Turkish Jewish community, the ADL sided with the Armenians.

Mr. Foxman and Mr. Tarsy broke that one sacred determinant of any Jewish leader when confronted with a difficult choice – is it good for the Jews?

They made the wrong choice. Just ask the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which was still at work trying to clean up the diplomatic mess that the two of them created.

Source: http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/this_weeks_issue/columnists/mountain/?content_id=3622