10/18 Boston Globe: Pressure builds for ADL to yield on genocide issue

Pressure builds for ADL to yield on genocide issue

By Keith O'Brien, Globe Staff October 18, 2007

Even as support crumbles in Congress for a resolution recognizing the World War I-era Armenian genocide, several Massachusetts towns are still calling on the Anti-Defamation League to clarify its position on the matter and support the resolution.

This week alone, Lexington and Westwood have suspended their involvement in a popular ADL antibigotry program, joining four other communities - Watertown, Newton, Belmont, and Arlington - in protesting the ADL's refusal to support the quest for genocide recognition.

Given the fading support for such a resolution in Congress, Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director, said he believes his organization was being wrongly punished by these Massachusetts communities.

"I don't think it's fair," Foxman told the Globe yesterday.

Still, local Armenian-Americans and the town officials who have voted to pull out of the ADL's No Place For Hate program said they will continue to pressure the ADL to specifically acknowledge the mass killings as genocide no matter what Congress does. .

"The issue was not a political issue; the issue was a human rights issue," said Marianne Ferguson, explaining why Newton's Human Rights Commission, which she chairs, voted to pull out of the ADL antibigotry program last month. "And to deny a history, and deny that it happened, to say, 'Not so' - you can't do that and say you're a human rights organization."

From 1915 to 1923, Ottoman Turks slaughtered as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what is now modern-day Turkey. Armenians, historians, and nations including France and Canada have recognized the killings as genocide. But the Turkish government has refused to accept the genocide label and bristled recently over the possibility that Congress might adopt the genocide resolution.

The uproar, which began last week when a House panel voted in favor of the resolution, pushed several members of Congress to withdraw their support. By yesterday, the number of cosponsors had fallen from 227 to 214 - not enough votes to pass - and Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed off her pledge to bring the resolution to a vote of the entire House.

At issue for the Bush administration, Congress, and the ADL is Middle East stability. Turkey is not only a rare Muslim ally of the United States, but also of Israel. Approving the resolution might upset the balance of the Middle East, some congressmen believe, and that notion is shared by Foxman at ADL, an organization founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism.

"I think the good people of Congress have seen the light," Foxman said yesterday. "Maybe the good people in the Massachusetts towns who penalized us will also see the light."

For now, that seems unlikely. Under pressure in August, Foxman reversed decades of ADL policy and called the Armenian tragedy "tantamount to genocide" in a carefully worded written statement. But that did not go far enough for local Armenian-Americans and many town officials.

"To me that's like saying slavery was tantamount to slavery, but not exactly," said Ferguson.

Consequently, many still opposed to the ADL's position are making two demands. They want the ADL to make a clear statement acknowledging the genocide. And they want Foxman's human rights organization to stand with Armenian-Americans in calling on the US government to officially recognize the genocide.

"They're still hiding and will not say they're supporting the resolution," said Watertown Town Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney. "We're going to stand firm on it."

The ADL will have a chance to answer its critics in two weeks when a national panel of members meets in New York to discuss potential policy changes, including the organization's stance on the Armenian genocide issue.

At that time, Lori Gans, a member of the ADL's New England executive committee, said her first priority will be persuading the 300-member panel to craft a statement acknowledging the genocide unequivocally.

In the meantime, Gans said, "The question is, how will this affect us and our ability to do our work?" she said. "I don't know. Only time will tell."

Source: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/10/18/pressure_builds_for_adl_to_yield_on_genocide_issue/