BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
For too many years, Abraham Foxman and ADL’s leaders have gone far beyond their organization’s noble mandate of stopping "the defamation of the Jewish people," by meddling in international politics. The ADL had apparently appointed itself the guardian of Israel’s strategic interests and the well being of Jews everywhere, particularly those in Turkey. Ironically, while constantly singing the praises of Turkish tolerance towards minorities, the ADL kept expressing serious concerns over the safety of the few Jews remaining in that country.
Foxman and his group would not have become involved in last week’s controversy on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, had they simply stuck to their mission of fighting anti-Semitism. As Herb Keinon pointed out in his August 24 column in the Jerusalem Post, the ADL, besides being unhelpful to Israel, is getting "in the way" of Israeli diplomacy by creating unnecessary and unwelcome complications.
ADL officials were acting as if they were in charge of Israel’s security rather than heading a U.S. civil rights organization, forgetting that the duly elected leaders of Israel were fully capable of protecting not only the interests of their country, but those of their kinsmen residing in Turkey. In the process of recklessly delving into foreign politics, the ADL had no qualms about collaborating with Turkish denialists and even lobbying on their behalf to block the passage of a congressional resolution affirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide.
Through a long series of unwise judgmen’s and draconian decisions, Foxman managed last week to entangle his organization, the Jewish-American community as well the state of Israel in a major controversy which aggravated not only the Armenian-American community, but a large number of U.S. Jews and even the governmen’s of Israel and Turkey.
After rejecting for years all pleas by Armenia’s and others not to cave in to Turkish blackmail on the Armenian Genocide, Foxman arrogantly fired last week ADL’s regional director in Boston for disagreeing with the organization’s denialist policy. Two members of the regional board resigned in protest and a major outcry ensued. Many highly influential Jewish American leaders denounced Foxman publicly. The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and scores of other newspapers published front-page articles, opinion columns, editorials and letters to the editor objecting to Foxman’s heavy-handed style of running the ADL and questioning how an organization dedicated to countering discrimination and protecting civil rights could be a party to genocide denial.
After persistent calls for Foxman’s resignation from the American-Jewish community, the ADL issued a statement acknowledging for the first time that the mass killings of Armenia’s were "tantamount to genocide." While many welcomed the reversal of ADL’s long-standing policy of referring to the genocide as a massacre, this statement itself generated a new controversy. Many Armenia’s and Jews were not fully satisfied because Foxman’s acknowledgment was not forceful enough. They were even more upset by Foxman’s declaration that the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide was "a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenia’s and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States." Some viewed Foxman’s morally ambiguous statement as a continuation of his unwise efforts to play politics with the genocide issue: an attempt to appease the Turks while accommodating his Armenian and Jewish critics.
Turkish leaders were shocked and alarmed by ADL’s unexpected statement which might have the effect of further eroding Jewish support for Turkey’s frantic efforts to block the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, Turkish officials were very much concerned that other Jewish-American organizations would follow suit, eventually leading to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel itself.
Turkey’s leaders immediately expressed their outrage to the highest officials of the State of Israel demanding that they pressure the ADL to retract its statement. Caught unawares by the ADL’s reversal on the Armenian Genocide, Israeli officials reassured the Turks that their country’s policy would remain unchanged and that they would contact Foxman and his group, even though they said they did not control the actions of American-Jewish organizations.
As pressure mounted on the ADL from Israel and Turkey, Foxman engaged in damage control by sending a polite letter to Erdogan expressing regret for the inconvenience caused by his group’s statement. Erdogan, wanting to impress his countrymen on the eve of Turkish presidential elections, deliberately mischaracterized Foxman’s letter as an apology and a retraction.
Erdogan had good reason to be alarmed. One day after the ADL statement, matters got worse when the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which for years has openly sided with Turkey on the denial of the Armenian Genocide, issued a statement by its Executive Director David A. Harris. In so many carefully crafted words, Harris acknowledged the Armenian Genocide by stating that protecting historical truth should be one of the highest priorities of the Jewish people.
A Simon Wiesenthal Center official told the Jerusalem Post last week that the Armenian Genocide should be recognized as a historical fact despite "the political ramifications." We have "an obligation to tell the truth about historical events – even if they sometimes create certain problems for us," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter of the Wiesenthal Center.
Dr. Zuroff was joined by Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week that it is "imperative for Jews to acknowledge the truth of the Turkish genocide against Armenia’s, notwithstanding Turkey’s relationship with Israel." He added: "It’s high time for Turkey to acknowledge that truth of history and move on."
The domino effect continued. One day after the ADL and the AJC statemen’s, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the main umbrella group on Jewish affairs, held a conference call to discuss adopting a position on the Armenian Genocide.
Finally, Foxman announced that the ADL would consider going beyond merely acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and possibly support the pending congressional resolution. This issue would be put on the organization’s national policy making agenda at its next meeting on November 1.
The only question now is whether the Armenian Genocide resolution would have already been adopted by the House of Representatives by the time the ADL holds its meeting on November 1. The hope is that neither the ADL nor other Jewish-American groups would lobby to block the resolution, sending a clear message to members of Congress that most American Jews support it, while the rest do not oppose it.
As this writer was quoted saying in last Sunday’s Boston Globe: "the truth is finally prevailing over all sorts of political powers and pressures. And this has a domino effect. One by one all the pieces of denial are crumbling."