08/31 Watertown Tab: Watertown leaders look for more from Anti-Defamation League

Watertown leaders look for more from Anti-Defamation League

Jillian Fennimore, Staff Writer

Thu Aug 30, 2007, 12:13 PM EDT

WATERTOWN, MA - As a former “No Place for Hate” community, Watertown’s future with the Anti-Defamation League’s tolerance program is uncertain.

It’s also up in the air whether ADL support of a U.S. Congressional resolution to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide could patch up their sour relationship with Watertown.

“We need to continue going on without bringing [No Place for Hate] back right away,” saidAt-Large Councilor Mark Sideris. “There are still a lot of people that think the ADL should go further.”

The controversy began after Newton’s David Boyajian wrote a letterto the Watertown TAB & Press in July, bringing light to the ADL’s stance, which some said amounted to denial of the World War I-era mass murders of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

But after much public debate and emotional outpouring from local Armenians and officials, the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, changed the organization’s position by calling the consequences of the Ottoman Empire’s actions “tantamount to genocide.”

In the same letter, however, Foxman said that a Congressional resolution is a “counterproductive diversion.”

Sideris said he is working with Newton Mayor David Cohen to hold a public rally sometime in September outside Newton City Hall, in orderto show solidarity and underscore the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government in 1915.

“We feel we need to keep the pressure going,” he said. “I don’t think just jumping back into the program is really necessary. We need to build on what is happening here.”

Local officials are doing just that.
On Thursday, Aug. 30, state Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, and Boston City Councilor Michael P. Ross were scheduled to take to the State House steps with survivors of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide to demonstrate the cohesion between Jewish and Armenian-American communities.

On Monday, Aug. 27, just 10 days after ADL regional director Andrew Tarsy was fired for breaking ranks by publicly recognizing the genocide, he was reinstated.

“I am proud that ADL has made a very significant change confronting a moral issue and acknowledging the Armenian Genocide for what it was,” Tarsy said in a statement. “The Anti-Defamation League has important work to do on such vital concerns as anti-Semitism, hate crimes, civil rights, immigration reform and interfaith relations, and I look forward to helping ADL make the world a better place.”

But these back-and-forth actions have had many Watertown officials saying that it is not enough.

At-Large Councilor Marilyn Devaney, who authored and pushed forward the proclamation severing ties with the ADL, said the 60-plus other “No Place for Hate” communities need to join in making a statement to the national board.

Residents in Newton, Belmont, Somerville and Arlington are rethinking the program.

In Newton, members of the Human Rights Commission have postponed their decision to withdraw from a long-standing program in the city. For more on developments in Newton, please see page 3.

Devaney has booked the Watertown Middle School on Sept. 26 and is in the planning stages to host an event to foster support of the pending Congressional resolution.

“You have to get people together,” Devaney said. “Maybe this is the year [the resolution] will prevail. The goal with all of this is to stay positive.”

Sharistan Melkonian, chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts — based in Watertown — said bringing back the “No Place for Hate” program is not the way to go.

“The Armenian National Committee welcomed the ADL’s announcement ending its unfortunate longtime complicity in Turkey’s state policy denying the Armenian Genocide,” she said in an e-mail sent from Armenia. “However, we are extremely disturbed that the ADL’s national leader, Abe Foxman, continues to insist on working to prevent our own Congress from displaying an equal commitment by adopting the Armenian Genocide resolution. Until the ADL comes to terms with the fact that its own leader has played a hand in helping Turkey cover up the Armenian Genocide, it cannot serve as an honest sponsor of an anti-hate campaign.”

Jonathan Hecht, Watertown’s District B councilor, said the ADL still needs to come to terms with what they stirred up over the past month.

Having a “No Place for Hate” committee in town, which he was a member of, was vital for Watertown in becoming part of a network both state and nationwide.

“I think there is a lot of support in town for what ‘No Place for Hate’ was doing,” he said. “[The committee] was always something that came from Watertown and was for Watertown.”

But restoring the committee may not be the answer now, he said, although maintaining its programs is.

“I think that’s really where need to put our focus locally,” Hecht said.

Will Twombly, former “No Place for Hate” committee co-chairperson, agreed, and said many of their projects will continue and flourish.

Ruth Thomasian, a former “No Place for Hate” committee member who is herself Armenian, said Watertown has sparked an “incredible movement” that will continue for years to come.

“This would never come up, and we would have never pushed the envelope,” she said about the ADL debate. “The community here cares about diversity in general.”

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/watertown/homepage/x1185657777