09/06 Needham Times: Needham to remain No Place for Hate town

Needham to remain No Place for Hate town
Steven Ryan
Thu Sep 06, 2007, 03:05 PM EDT

Needham - The Needham Human Rights Committee decided not to abandon the No Place For Hate program – co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League – just yet, but the program remains on thin ice as the committee asked the national organization to back Congressional legislation recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
“I think the best way to make change is by not severing our relationship,” said Debbie Watters, chairwoman of the Human Rights Committee, who drafted a letter to be sent to the ADL.
The Human Rights Committee presented the draft to a standing room only public meeting at the Needham Police Station Wednesday, Sept. 5. The committee would recommend ending the town’s association with the ADL if the national organization does not directly recognize the Armenian Genocide and change its stance on the Congressional legislation, according to the letter.
“The longer the national board waits, the more credibility the organization loses,” the letter read.
Over the past month, the ADL fired Regional Director Andrew Tarsey after he publicly acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. He was rehired on Monday, Aug. 27. In between the firing and rehiring, the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, issued a statement claiming the tragic events of more than 90 years ago were “tantamount to genocide.”
“What does ‘tantamount to genocide’ mean?” said Charles Sahagian of Hunting Road. “Isn’t it genocide?”
Some Needham residents in attendance Wednesday felt there was a discrepency between Foxman’s recent statement and the national organization’s refusal to back the Congressional legislation.
“To say we won’t support a resolution that deals with what happened says we’re not going to deal with this piece of history,” said Michael Guzelian of Livingston Circle. “We have to learn from our history.”
The ADL first came under fire in Watertown, where the Town Council ended its involvment with No Place For Hate, citing the ADL’s alleged denial of the Armenian Genocide. The genocide saw the mass deportation and murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the World War I era. The Turkish government rejects the characterization of events as genocide.
“I feel like I lit a little candle,” said Watertown Councilor-at-large Marilyn Devaney, who spearheaded the effort in Watertown, at Wednesday’s meeting. “No place for denial. This is what this is about.”
The national ADL will hold its annual meeting in November, at which it plans to discuss the organization’s position on the Armenian Genocide and on the legislation. Folks at Wednesday’s meeting debated whether to wait for the outcome of the annual meeting or sever ties now.
“I disagree with the idea of sitting back and doing nothing for 90 days,” said Megan Rees, a former Needhamite who now lives in Westwood.
Needham’s main involvement with No Place For Hate revolves around student-led activities at the high school during the month of March. Michael Sheetz, of Laurel Drive, who is a volunteer board member of the regional ADL, attended the meeting to ask for patience.
“We encourage them to bring it up to the national policy board for debate and discussion in November,” Sheetz said. “We find ourselves under assault for our local programs and being beat on for a single national policy which now has changed. My interest, as a Needham citizen, is I don’t want those programs to go away. The ADL, for decades, has been at the forefront in fighting for human rights.”
Rabbi Jay Perlman of Temple Beth Shalom echoed the sentiment of persuing a wait-and-see approach.
“The machinations of policy change in a large organization are moving,” Perlman said. “Instead of being punitive, I believe it’s more important to let the ADL have it’s discussions.”
Committee members, when discussing the letter, expressed conflicting emotions about abandoning the ADL. The Human Rights Committee must gain approval from the Board of Selectmen to sever ties with the No Place For Hate program.
“I have a difficult time with the fact that the ADL is not acknowledging something that is so incredibly painful to people,” said committee member Mark Smith. “I have a difficult time giving them until November.”
Fellow committee member John Buehrens simply said he was “disappointed” with the ADL, but believes it is too early to shun the organization while it deals with the issue.
“I think [Foxman’s] history, his scandals, needs an examination of conscience among the board and constituents of the ADL at the most profound leverl,” said Buehrens, noting the importance of ADL’s guidance in dealing with human rights issues in town. “I find it very difficult to close the doors of judgement.”
After the committee decided to send the letter and gauge any response at their next meeting on Sept. 20, folks leaving Wednesday’s meeting expressed mixed emotions.
“The ADL is just dragging its feet, and the Human Rights Committee went along with it,” said David Boyajian, of Newton, whose letter to the Watertown TAB first ignited the issue.
Rabbi Perlman felt much differently.
“They did the right thing,” he said.

Steven Ryan can be reached at sryan@cnc.com.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/needham/homepage/x942962673