09/18 Belmont Citizen-Herald: Belmont out of ADL program

Belmont out of ADL program; Selectmen remove town from No Place for Hate
By Cassie Norton
Tue Sep 18, 2007, 03:53 PM EDT

Belmont, Mass. - The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to remove the town from the Anti-Defamation League-sponsored “No Place for Hate” program.

More than a hundred Armenian-Americans from Belmont and beyond filled the Town Hall auditorium Monday night to hear the debate and vote on the controversial issue.

After hearing from several members of the Human Rights Commission and residents who didn’t have a chance to speak at the Sept. 6 hearing, each selectman expressed his unconditional support for the HRC’s recommendation that the town sever its ties to the ADL.

But it was Selectman Dan Leclerc’s comments about the second half of the recommendation — that the town support calling on the ADL to recognize the genocide and endorse that recognition in national foreign policy — that irked the crowd and brought them to their feet.

While Leclerc contemplated the implications of Belmont’s Board of Selectmen dictating U.S. foreign policy and the complexities of the political climate in Turkey and Jerusalem, the audience began shouting at him, calling his position racist. The misunderstanding came when the crowd extrapolated from Leclerc’s comments a defense of the Turkish position.

Angelo Firenze, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, cut off the shouts by declaring the discussion recessed, but the silence didn’t last.

“If this were about the Holocaust, and the sponsors of No Place for Hate were denying the Holocaust, you would have severed ties long ago,” one man called from the back of the room. “I accuse you of being prejudiced against Armenians and treating them as second-class citizens.”

The board recognized Belmont resident Joyce Barsam, who spoke to the audience in an attempt “to add a little peace and common sense to this discussion.” She said the audience commended the HRC “for their very wise decision to serve ties with the ADL.”

“After the commission thoughtfully severed its ties, two addenda were added to the motion,” she said. “Those addenda were actually put in to allow room for the ADL to change its position, to amend its stance regarding the Armenian Genocide.”

She went on to point out that while Leclerc and Firenze disagreed with the added statements, that disagreement did not negate their decision to withdraw from No Place for Hate, or their support of the recognition of the genocide.

Barsam said by accepting the first part of the recommendation, the selectmen were “doing just what the Armenian community hoped they would do.”

Mollified by her words, the meeting was reconvened and two motions proposed. The first, that the board, “accept the recommendation of the Human Rights Commission to withdraw from the ADL-sponsored No Place For Hate program,” passed unanimously.

The second, that the board “accept the recommendation of the Human Rights Commission regarding conditions for rejoining the program,” was voted down two to one, with selectman Paul Solomon the only supporter.

Leclerc said in his comments that he wasn’t elected to comment on “our senators’ and congressmen’s jobs.”

“It’s above my pay-grade, so to speak,” he said.
Solomon took the opposite view, saying that there is a reason for smaller communities to take a stand on national issues.

“This is what grassroots is all about,” he said. “If enough of us speak out, they will listen.”

Several communities in the state have halted their application processes following Watertown’s decision to withdraw from No Place for Hate earlier this year, and several Human Rights Commissions have recommended the action, but Belmont is only the second town in the nation to actually withdraw from the program.

HRC chairwoman Laurie Graham said she was happy with the board’s decision, and “ready to move on from here” with Belmont’s new campaign against hate, unaffiliated with any organization.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/belmont/homepage/x1941733857