09/12 Newton Tab: Commission votes to end ADL relationship

Commission votes to end ADL relationship

Chrissie Long

Wed Sep 12, 2007, 04:37 PM EDT

Newton - The city’s Human Rights Commission is recommending that Newton “cease participation” with the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program.

It is now up to Mayor David Cohen to act on the unanimous recommendation — a decision he expects to make in the coming days.

In an emotionally-charged meeting in the cafeteria of City Hall, members of the Armenian American community pleaded with commissioners to follow the lead of Watertown and Arlington and sever ties with ADL.

“We have been waiting for the recognition of our history all our lives,” said Cambridge resident Alik Arzoumanian, with tears forming in her eyes. “[After 92 years of waiting,] I don’t want to give ADL and No Place for Hate one more day…I am hurt and I am offended. We have to [send] this symbolic message in severing ties.”

Newton resident David Boyajian, who exposed the ADL’s controversial position in a letter to the Watertown TAB & Press in July, said that withdrawing from No Place for Hate would be the best way to influence the national ADL.

“I hope the Newton Human Rights Commission will remain faithful to its mission and agree that the Newton No Place for Hate must sever — sever — not suspend, not think about, not sleep on (because we Armenians have had it up to here with euphemisms) must sever their ties to the ADL.”

Only four Newton residents spoke in favor of remaining a member of No Place for Hate – all four are representatives of ADL. They asked commissioners to wait for them to discuss the issue with the national ADL at their annual meeting November 1.

Gerry Tishler, who co-founded No Place for Hate with Lenny Zakim, agreed that the Armenian genocide should be recognized for what it is, but he didn’t want Newton to leave No Place for Hate.

“If you drop No Place for Hate or even if you make it conditional upon the outcome of this vote in November, you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You are making a bad mistake,” said the 35-year Newton resident. “We have added so much to your communities to assist you in combating hatred. Don’t reject us now.”

Newton resident Lori Ganz, who also serves as an ADL commissioner, said that the city could best help the national organization change from within, if it remained a member.

“Change happens by those who show up,” she said. “Those who walk away don’t have influence. We ask you to be our partners. Don’t leave us alone to fight this [battle.]”

Recognizing that through the waves of loud applause and booing, more people agreed about the genocide than disagreed, Cohen said, “There is a tremendous amount of common ground among everyone in this room. All of us…have more in common than what separates us.”

But untimely, commission members felt they could best send a message to the national ADL, if they chose to withdraw from the tolerance promoting organization.

“How much longer are [we] going to wait?” asked advisory board member and Newton South teacher, Viviana Planine. “Not to recognize the Armenian genocide to me is injustice…And this injustice has been done for 92 years.”

Choosing their words very carefully, the commission decided to “cease participation” with the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate until ADL supports congressional legislation recognizing the Armenian genocide and the national ADL fully and unequivocally acknowledges the genocide.

But members stressed that Newton will remain an anti-hate community, even though they will not operate under an organization that rejected one of the greatest hate crimes in history.

“You must stand up for everyone,” said Sona Petrossian, human rights commissioner. “When you stand up to injustice, you can’t pick the people you stand up for. We sit under the umbrella for No Place for Hate: Do we as commissioners and advisory board members feel comfortable staying under that umbrella when it has been tarnished with this issue?”

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913 to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens, has yet to unequivocally recognize the Armenian genocide and to support congressional legislation conceding that the mass killings was a genocide.

Instead, National Director Abraham Foxman has called the massacres only “tantamount to genocide” and continued to oppose congressional legislation acknowledging it.

His stance has caused a ripple of controversy through the organization and has led Watertown – and perhaps, Newton—to end its relationship with the organization’s No Place for Hate campaign.

While some members remained on the fence, most were not convinced that the national ADL would change its position.

They could not remained linked with an organization who turned history into a political chess match.

“We have a moral obligation to witness and to record injustice,” said Planine. “Politics should not enter into it. This is a human rights issue, politics should stay out of it.”

Chrissie Long can be reached at clong@cnc.com.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/newton/news/x680946402