11/03 Boston Globe: ADL officials say stance clear on genocide

ADL officials say stance clear on genocide

Contend earlier remarks had been misinterpreted

By Megan Woolhouse, Globe Staff November 3, 2007

NEW YORK - The national Anti-Defamation League yesterday refused to act on calls from within its own ranks to acknowledge unequivocally the Armenian genocide, after its top officials insisted that earlier remarks calling the World War I-era massacre "tantamount to genocide" were misinterpreted.

"I was very clear," ADL head Abraham Foxman said in an interview last night, referring to his remarks in August. "People with other agendas tried to read into them."

In a statement issued last night, the National Commission of the Anti-Defamation League said it had "decided to take no further action on the issue of the Armenian genocide."

Before yesterday's meeting, Massachusetts-based members of the ADL had urged the national organization to support both a congressional resolution calling the massacre genocide and a separate, similar measure. Some critics from Massachusetts had contended that Foxman's earlier statement was carefully constructed to avoid a full acknowledgement of the massacre.

But after hearing a lengthy debate, Massachusetts representatives withdrew their resolution, saying they were satisfied with the outcome.

James Rudolph, chairman of the ADL's regional board for New England, said the league's national chairman, Glen Lewy, assured the group "that earlier statements were always intended to be an unequivocal acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide."

"I feel comfortable with it," Rudolph said of the decision.

Newton resident Lori Gans, also an ADL commissioner, said she was pleased.

"We were hoping to get a clearer, restated position," she said after the meeting. "We didn't get a formal statement, but we got clarity. Abe Foxman's statement of Aug. 21 was in fact the unequivocal statement we wanted it to be."

Armenian activists, however, disagreed.

Sharistan Melkonian, chief of the Armenian National Committee's Eastern Massachusetts office, said Foxman owes the Armenian community an apology.

"It's disappointing that they don't come out with a strong statement that would put an end to any concerns about its position once and for all. it's unfortunate and it's disappointing," she said by phone after the vote.

Since this summer's controversy, seven Massachusetts communities have severed or suspended relations with the ADL and dropped its No Place for Hate Program.

Rudolph said yesterday that he would try to bring those communities back into the program.

"I think the perception it was never intended to be unequivocal has hurt us," he said. "We left today's meeting recommitted to the mission of the ADL."

Between 1915 and 1923, Ottoman Turks massacred as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what the US ambassador at the time called "a campaign of race extermination." Historians and other nations, as well as Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, have described the massacre as genocide. But the Turkish government has refused to accept the label; until August, neither did the ADL.

Leaders within the ADL, founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, have long expressed concern that acknowledging the genocide would put Jews at risk in Turkey or damage Israel's relations with Turkey, a Muslim ally. The US government also relies on Turkey as an ally in the Iraq war.

The controversy erupted in August after Watertown, which has a sizeable Armenian-American community, decided to pull out of the No Place For Hate Program to protest the ADL's refusal to acknowledge the genocide. Regional ADL members then challenged the national organization's stand. Andrew Tarsy, chapter director, spoke out publicly, saying he disagreed with the national position.

Foxman fired Tarsy. Board members, Jewish leaders, and Armenian-Americans rallied to support Tarsy, and Foxman reversed course. Within days, he called the massacre "tantamount to genocide" and rehired Tarsy.

Although he did not have a vote and is not a commissioner, Tarsy attended yesterday's conference. He did not return calls requesting comment last night.

About 200 ADL commissioners met behind closed doors for more than three hours at a Manhattan hotel to debate the matter during its annual convention. About 50 commissioners spoke on the issue.

According to a letter obtained by the Globe yesterday, New York ADL Commissioner Robert G. Sugarman asked other commissioners to sign a letter stating they did not support either the House resolution or the New England chapter's efforts. Members were asked to sign a letter that said they "strongly disagree" with the premise of both resolutions.

"We cannot understand why the issue of ADL's position on the massacres, atrocities, and genocide perpetrated against Armenians should be raised again at the National Commission meeting," the letter said. "It is inconceivable that anyone could reasonably interpret the statement in any way other than as an unambiguous and unequivocal declaration."

The letter referred to the massacre as genocide twice, adding that the ADL "did the right and moral thing by recognizing the Armenian genocide in August."

Source: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/11/03/adl_officials_say_stance_clear_on_genocide/