09/13 Needham Hometown Weekly: No Place for Progress

No Place For progress

BRET SILVERBERG, Hometown Weekly Staff 13.SEP.07

The tension built up once again last week at the second impromptu meeting of the Human Rights Committee with regard to a local affiliation with the Anti Defamation League based on their refusal to recognize the Armenian massacres of 1915-1918 as genocide.

Many who attended the meeting, a mix of concerned Needham residents and interested parties from towns surrounding Needham, rose in support of backing away from the town’s connection with the ADL, most notably, their No Place For Hate educational program.
A local representative for the ADL, Needham resident Michael Sheetz, was present at the meeting to dispel concerns that the public had and to relay the regional ADL board’s position on the Armenian atrocities.

“The regional board took a stand against the national position,” said Sheetz. “And now we find ourselves under assault for all of the good things the ADL has been doing.”

Sheetz said that the ADL’s national board meets in November where policy change will be discussed and decided upon.

The controversy that made international news began on Aug. 14 in Watertown, home of the third largest Armenian population in the United States, when the town council decided to back out of the ADL’s No Place For Hate program, based on the ADL’s position with regard to the Armenian massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire.

Leading the public comment portion of the meeting was Newton resident Jack Nusan Porter, treasurer of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, who spoke in favor of cutting ties with both the regional and national boards of the ADL.

“My question is if the national does not separate, will you break off?” he asked, directing his question towards Sheetz as a member of the regional ADL board. “The regional and national is of one hand and one heart.”

Many advocates for the removal of ADL presence in Needham spoke highly of the No Place For Hate program, a student-run program that emphasizes racial tolerance.

“It is commendable what the ADL has done in the past,” said Belmont resident Jorair Hovsepian. “They should have known what was going on in the Ottoman Empire.

“This is not politics, this is human rights.”

Outspoken Watertown Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney attended the meeting to represent the viewpoint that started all of the controversy almost four weeks ago.

“[The ADL is] depriving the Armenian people of their history,” she said. This is “No place for denial. That’s what this is about.”

Devaney also announced a public meeting to take place at Watertown Middle School on Sept. 26 at 7:30p.m. in which a discussion of how to move forward as a community will take place.

Only one member of the Needham community, Jay Perlman, rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, asked the board and public to allow the ADL time to make a decision before Needham takes any action.

“Our community is very much saddened by what has happened,” he said with regard to the recent ADL backlash. “Everyone wants to do the right thing here.”

Perlman offered the solution of a 90-day waiting period to allow the national board of the ADL to meet and discuss how they will proceed.

Several raised the point that programs akin to No Place Could Hate could continue without ADL presence.

At the beginning of the meeting, Human Rights Committee Chair Debbie Walters announced that the community does not receive money from the ADL for such programs but instead pays a fee for the right to be considered a “No Place For Hate” community.

Excerpts from a letter, drafted by Walters, expressing disappointment with the ADL and their standpoint, was read aloud. Walters suggested the letter be sent to the national ADL board.

Human Rights Committee board members ranged with regard to their opinions on how to proceed.

“I would have a really difficult time continuing our relationship with the ADL at this point,” said committee member Mark Smith.

Committee member John Buehrens, reverend of First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Needham, took a more conservative approach.

“I support the letter,” he said. He mentioned, however, that he is not typically an advocate of severing ties, and possibly burning bridges, with international organizations such as the ADL.

Walters remained diplomatic while siding with the feeling of the public in attendance, as the board unanimously moved to submit the letter.

“I do believe the national ADL board could make this go away quickly by changing their policy,” she said.

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