09/20 Needham Times: Selectmen back Human Rights Committee's letter to ADL

Selectmen back Human Rights Committee's letter to the Anti-Defamation League
By Steven Ryan
Thu Sep 20, 2007, 12:00 AM EDT

The Needham Human Rights Committee’s letter to the Anti-Defamation League criticizing the national organization’s controversial stance on the Armenian Genocide spoke volumes, according to members of the Board of Selectmen.

“I think it was an exceptional letter,” said Selectman John Bulian.

Selectman Jack Cogswell felt the Human Rights Committee’s letter to the ADL was a strong course of action, expressing the town’s feeling that the ADL must back Congressional legislation recognizing the mass deportation and murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the World War I era, as genocide.

“In our opinion, the longer the national board waits, the more credibility the organization loses, and the more difficult it is for us as a committee for human rights to carry on our work with the ADL,” wrote Human Rights Committee Chairwoman Debbie Watters.

Needham’s main involvement with No Place for Hate revolves around student-led activities at the high school during the month of March.

“I support precisely what it was [Watters] said in the letter,” Cogswell said.

The Board of Selectmen, which has the final say on Needham’s involvement with the ADL-co-sponsored No Place for Hate program, has no plans to overstep the Human Rights Committee in their handling of the controversy, according to board members.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association, the other co-sponsor of No Place for Hate, designated Needham a No Place for Hate town in 2000 through the Board of Selectmen. Selectmen could end that designation with or without input from the Human Rights Committee. Members of the board said they would not consider taking such unilateral action.

“We’re not going to,” Cogswell said. “We’re waiting for a recommendation from the Human Rights Committee.”

The ADL first came under fire in Watertown, where the Town Council ended its involvement with No Place for Hate, citing the ADL’s alleged denial of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government rejects the characterization of events as genocide.

Over the past couple of months, the ADL fired Regional Director Andrew Tarsy 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,” a statement many in the Armenian-American community feel falls short. The ADL does not support the Congressional legislation.

“What does ‘tantamount to genocide’ mean?” said Charles Sahagian, of Hunting Road, at a meeting of the Human Rights Committee earlier this month. “Isn’t it genocide?”

Bulian said the Human Rights Committee is “taking the right course,” reiterating his personal view that “there absolutely was a genocide.”

“I support the Congressional resolution,” Bulian said.
Selectman Jerry Wasserman, who is on the board of the MMA, believes the Human Rights Committee’s approach could be more effective than just taking immediate action and severing ties with the organization. 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.

“The advantage of not pulling out before then is it puts more pressure on them to change their position,” Wasserman said. “Needham, combined with the MMA and other communities [taking this course of action] will have that influence.”

The MMA issued a proclamation last week supporting the Congressional legislation on the Armenian Genocide, calling it “an essential act to heal and bring parties together.” But the MMA didn’t sever ties with the ADL, saying it would “subsequently re-evaluate its official sponsorship of the No Place for Hate program after the national ADL determines whether to adopt the position taken by the Executive Committee of the New England Region.”

Selectman Dan Matthews joined his fellow selectmen in throwing his support behind the Human Rights Committee, feeling the committee is “taking a sound approach” with its letter.

“The town’s approach is patient but persistent,” Matthews said. “The issue is new to us in town government. [The ADL] is a national organization, a good organization. It’s a good organization that made a bad decision.”

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


Massachusetts Municipal Association

Whereas the Massachusetts Municipal Association believes that in order to build and nurture strong and vibrant communities throughout the commonwealth and our nation, it is essential that all people strive to promote and protect basic human rights, understanding and reconciliation; and

Whereas this applies to both historical and present-day events, as each affects and guides the future:

Therefore the Massachusetts Municipal Association hereby resolves the following:

· The tragic events and horrible crimes against humanity initiated against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 must be recognized by all as genocide;

· The MMA applauds and supports the position of the New England Regional Director and New England Regional Executive Committee of the ADL for their leadership in calling for the unequivocal recognition of the Armenian Genocide and support for the Congressional Resolution before the U.S. House and Senate;

· The MMA partnered with the New England Region of the ADL as a founding sponsor of the NPFH Program because of the region’s demonstrated expertise and commitment as a human rights organization that provides high-quality community-based programs that unite people;

· The MMA applauds the success of the No Place For Hate Program in 60 communities in Massachusetts and expresses its desire that the program and its good work promoting tolerance, understanding and reconciliation, fighting hatred, racism, ethnic and religious discrimination, and engaging in both community-building and pro-active efforts to protect all members of the community, will be able to continue and flourish;

· The MMA recognizes and appreciates the national ADL’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the reinstatement of the New England Regional Director, a respected, dedicated, compassionate and skilled leader and partner in community-based work, yet sees these as steps in addressing the issues that have been raised during the past month, not final actions;

· The MMA respectfully calls on the national ADL to support the Congressional Resolution as the essential act to heal and bring all parties together; and

· The MMA will continue to review and monitor this matter, guided by the wishes and policies of our members and the participating communities, recognizing that while progress has been made, the MMA will subsequently re-evaluate its official sponsorship of the No Place for Hate program after the national ADL determines whether to adopt the position taken by the Executive Committee of the New England Region.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/needham/news/x1649541941