Group not ready to sever ADL ties
By Ian B. Murphy/Staff Writer
Thu Sep 27, 2007, 06:37 AM EDT
Lexington - The No Place For Hate committee still exists in Lexington. But it was clear Monday that a passionate and strong-willed Armenian-American community also exists in Lexington, and to them anything short of a full severance of ties between the town’s No Place For Hate committee and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is unacceptable.
That community showed up in force at the Selectmen’s Meeting Room in Town Hall this week, so much so that Chairman Jeanne Krieger had to call the meeting to order and then quickly adjourn to move the gathering to Cary Memorial Hall in order to accommodate the crowd of more than 130.
There, both Armenian-American and Jewish residents spoke out against the ADL’s ambiguous position on the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915. They pointed out that according to the ADL’s own guidelines, genocide denial is the final stage of genocide and that it is the highest form of hate-speech. Each speaker came back to the same theme: the ADL was a hypocritical organization that had lost its moral authority to back any program that seeks to promote diversity and squelch hate.
“Real tolerance is only possible when you don’t discriminate,” said Nairi Kachatourian, an Armenian-American senior at Lexington High School. “The ADL does.”
Jill Smilow, the chair of the No Place For Hate committee, gave a statement from the group’s steering committee saying it was not ready to recommend cutting ties to the ADL.
“While the Lexington No Place for Hate Steering Committee members recognize the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century as one of the world’s greatest atrocities, the steering committee is not yet prepared to make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen regarding severance from ADL and wishes to have further dialogue, discussion, and gather more information on this extremely important matter for our community before doing so,” she said.
Smilow pointed to the many good works No Place for Hate had done in the past, as well as its close affiliation with the New England regional ADL, which has publicly recognized the Armenian genocide. Smilow is a member of the regional ADL board of directors.
The Armenian-Americans were not concerned with No Place For Hate’s record. Most speakers acknowledged that the group had done excellent work in town, and that the group was important. They said No Place For Hate’s past deeds did not exonerate the ADL from denying the genocide, and many residents proposed that a new committee with the same mission be formed in town without the financial or moral support from the ADL.
“Clearly there is something worth preserving because of the work they have done,” said Noubar Afeyan, a resident of Sunset Ridge. “The real urgency of it is to take steps to make the program as uncompromised as it can be and it has always been, especially with its mission [of removing hate in the community]. It’s not urgent because Armenian Americans think it’s urgent; it’s urgent because it’s important to return to the uncompromised status of this very important program.”
Afeyan told the selectmen that both parties had a responsibility to act. Armenian Americans feel a responsibility because if they don’t speak out about what happened to their relatives, 1.5 million Armenians will have died for nothing. The Board of Selectman had to act because any program in town sponsored by a group that denied the genocide alienates an ethnic group of residents, Afeyan said.
“To be dependent financially, morally, or informationally (sic) on an organization that is compromised is wrong,” said Afeyan.
Jack Porter, the treasurer of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and Newton resident, urged the selectmen to take a position on the matter before the ADL’s November meeting, where he said the organization could be torn apart from within.
“In November, the ADL meets with its national executives,” said Porter. “If they don’t change their position on the Armenian genocide, one of two things will happen. Either (ADL national director Abraham) Foxman will have to retire, or the ADL will be torn apart. It’s an existential moment for the ADL. It’s do or die. Either it moves forward, or it goes under, and then the good work will just crumble away.”
Smilow’s husband, Howard Brick, who is also a member of the regional ADL board of directors, advised the selectmen to remember that part of the issue involved a bill in the U.S. Congress recognizing the genocide, and not to confuse this local issue with the geopolitical tangles involved with the resolution.
The selectmen took in all of the comments of the evening, but did not offer their own comments as the item was not on their agenda.
“I believe that we have an obligation to listen to the Armenian community, but I also want NPFH to have an opportunity to discuss how they are going to formulate themselves to continue to serve Lexington,” said chairman Jeanne Krieger.
The selectmen have not yet set a date to hold their own discussion about the issue.
“[Not discussing the issue isn’t] an attempt to duck anything,” said Selectman Hank Manz. “It’s not an attempt to marginalize the issue. It is an attempt to handle it correctly. We did not want to have to demand a speaker’s list. Obviously this is a huge issue.”
To learn more about HR 106, “An affirmation of the United States’ Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution,” contact Rep. Edward Markey at 5 High St., Suite 101, Medford MA 02155 or call 617-722-1432. The full text of HR 106 is available at http://tinyurl.com/yrrcjb.
No Place for hate’s position
The following statement was made to Lexington’s Board of Selectmen by Jill Smilow, chairman of the Lexington No Place for Hate Steering Committee.
The members of Lexington’s No Place for Hate Steering Committee met last Friday with Armenian-American residents of our town who presented their request that the town disassociate from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), thus ending the No Place for Hate Program in Lexington.
A lengthy discussion among everyone present followed their presentation.
While the Lexington No Place for Hate Steering Committee members recognize the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century as one of the world’s greatest atrocities, the steering committee is not yet prepared to make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen regarding severance from ADL and wishes to have further dialogue, discussion, and gather more information on this extremely important matter for our community before doing so.