09/18 Newton Tab: No place for ADL in Newton

Cohen severs ties with No Place for Hate
By Chrissie Long
Tue Sep 18, 2007, 05:58 PM EDT

Newton - Mayor David Cohen has ended an eight-year relationship with the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program.

In keeping with the recommendation of the city’s Human Rights Commission, Cohen said in a statement released Tuesday that the national ADL should change its policy and fully recognize the Armenian Genocide, before Newton can rejoin the tolerance-promoting campaign.

Newton becomes the third community — after Watertown and Belmont — to withdraw from No Place for Hate.

“For me, this is a matter of conscience,” Cohen said in a phone interview. “People of conscience need to stand up and acknowledge the historic fact of genocide. My hope is that national ADL will follow the regional ADL and change its policy on the Armenian Genocide.”

Choosing their words carefully, members of the Human Rights Commission decided Sept. 12 that the best response to the Anti-Defamation League’s position was to “cease participation” with No Place for Hate until the national ADL fully and unequivocally recognizes the Armenian Genocide and actively support congressional legislation which would do the same.

During that 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 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 is the best way to influence the national ADL.

“[Newton’s decision] is a great loss for National ADL,” Boyajian said Tuesday. “I think it will push them in the right direction. [Mayor David Cohen’s statement] is a step forward for genocide awareness and prevention.”

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 Nov. 1.

Gerry Tishler, who co-founded No Place for Hate with the late ADL New England leader and Newton resident 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.]”

Members of the Human Rights Commission 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.

In a column published in the Jerusalem Post last week, Foxman wrote that he “understood the passion behind [the appeals to recognize the genocide], but I was frustrated and disheartened that these critics were not taking seriously the dilemma we faced.”

“For us, there were competing moral principles at work,” he wrote. “The security and well-being of Jews everywhere in the world is a priority for ADL. In this case, it was listening to the views of the leaders of the Turkish Jewish community, a community that lives well in Turkey but is still a small community of 20,000 in a country of 65 million Muslims. A guiding principle for ADL is that when Jewish communities around the world appeal to us on matters that may have an impact on their lives, we don’t act as if we know better. We pay attention.”

But this week’s efforts in Newton and Belmont — with both Wellesley and Needham considering similar moves — may force Foxman’s further attention here as well.

“We have a moral obligation to witness and to record injustice,” said Newton South teacher Viviana 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/homepage/x428362160