WATERTOWN, Mass.–Boston area civil rights advocates have teamed with Armenian and Jewish American community activists in expressing disappointment and outrage at recent statemen’s by Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman denying the Armenian Genocide and opposing Congressional legislation affirming that crime against humanity, reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts. Foxman’s statemen’s have seriously jeopardized the credibility of the Watertown "No Place For Hate" (NPFH) anti-racism and tolerance promotion program, with pressure mounting on its leadership to sever ties with its parent organization, the ADL.
The controversy first came to light on July 6th when the Watertown Tab published a letter by an Armenian American citizen that spotlighted Foxman’s recent statemen’s opposing Congressional Armenian Genocide legislation. The letter asked the local "No Place For Hate" chapter to disassociate itself from the ADL.
Foxman’s statemen’s were from an April 21st Los Angeles Times article titled "Genocide Resolution Still Far from Certain" in which Foxman argued that "The Turks and Armenia’s need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn’t be the arbiter of that history. And I don’t think the U.S. Congress should be the arbiter either." The July 6th letter spurred a flurry of responses from Armenian Americans and others that were printed in the Watertown Tab. One letter, from New England ADL Regional Director Andrew Tarsy, defended Foxman, but was subsequently countered by a series of articles by local columnists Frank Mazzaglia, John DiMascio and community citizens expressing concerns about a loss of credibility by NPFH if it continued its association with genocide deniers.
In a letter to the Watertown Tab, ANCEM chairperson Sharistan Melkonian wrote, "Foxman’s use of euphemistic language to deny the Armenian Genocide runs counter to the fundamental tenets of No Place for Hate; and also runs counter to the ADL’s own charter, which, according to the ADL’s Website, states that the ADL’s
`ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.’"
"For the parent organization of No Place of Hate, or rather the national director of that organization, to deny genocide, goes against the basic concepts of tolerance and respect for diversity the organization is working so hard to promote in our communities," continued Melkonian.
Boston Globe Documents Genocide Denial Concerns
The situation intensified after an August 1st article in the Boston Globe, titled "Anti-Bias Effort Stirs Anger in Watertown," where Foxman, again, in reference to Armenian Genocide recognition efforts, stated "We’re not party to this, and I don’t understand why we need to be made party." In response to a direct question by reporter Keith O’Brien whether "what happened to Armenia’s under the Ottoman Empire was genocide, he [Foxman] replied, ‘I don’t know.’" He went on to note that "’I’m not going to be the arbiter of someone else’s history,’" . . . adding that he does not believe that Congress should either."
In her interview with the Globe’s O’Brien, Melkonian condemned Foxman’s genocide denial and stated that the ANC EM would "call for the Watertown ‘No Place for Hate’ program to sever its ties with the ADL unless it denounces Foxman’s position and acknowledges the genocide."
Watertown’s NPFH Co-Chairman Will Twombly, in response to O’Brien’s inquiries, stated that "Not to condemn the genocide and fully recognize it for what it was, I personally find inconsistent with the mission of No Place for Hate." He noted that his group would be asking "tough questions" of the New England ADL’s Tarsy. "At that point, Twombly said, the committee will decide on the best course of action, including the option of severing ties with the ADL altogether, effectively ending the program."
In a subsequent August 3 editorial, the Boston Globe called on the ADL to "acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people during World War I, and criticize Turkish attempts to repress the memory of this historical reality." Citing Israel’s close ties with Turkey, the editorial countered that "the ADL is not an arm of Israel, and whatever it does will not affect Turkish foreign policy." The editorial concluded, noting "failure to acknowledge past atrocities will encourage would-be perpetrators to believe they can get away with them, just as the Ottoman Empire did."
Jewish American Leaders / Activists Speak Out Against Genocide Denial
Among key community leaders joining the Armenian American community in expressing concern about Foxman’s genocide denial and its repercussions on the "No Place for Hate" program are Jewish American academics and organization leaders. In a letter to the Boston Globe, Jewish Voice for Peace ‘s Boston Co-Chair Martin Federman noted that "Abraham Foxman’s contention that his Anti-Defamation League (ADL) should not be the ‘arbiter of history’ by acknowledging the historicity of the Armenian Genocide is at best disingenuous, at worst craven self-interest." Federman argued that "if anyone were to sidestep the issue of whether the Holocaust really happened, by refusing to be the ‘arbiter of history’, Foxman and the ADL would (appropriately) be apoplectic."
In a press release issued on August 5th, Boston University Professor Michael Siegel condemned the ADL’s genocide denial and urged Watertown ‘No Place for Hate’ to "sever its ties with the ADL unless the organization acknowledges that this genocide occurred." A public letter from Siegel to New England ADL Regional Director Andrew Tarsy stated "As a long-time ADL supporter, it is with great disappointment that I write you today to express my disgust with your organization’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the Armenian genocide, and in particular, your July 26 response to the recent controversy in Watertown, in which you refused to acknowledge the genocide, and instead, stated that the question of whether a genocide occurred: " was one to be resolved between the two countries — Armenia and Turkey."
Similar statemen’s of outrage have been spotlighted on a number of blogs, including articles by the Huffington Post’s Mark Oppenheimer and Jewcy’s Joey Kurtzman. Oppenheimer, in a July 10th post, argued that "for a non-profit like the ADL, which in fact has done important work to combat not just anti-Semitism but other forms of ethnocentrism and racism, to shill for Holocaust-deniers (yes, the Armenian genocide can fairly be called a Holocaust) is inexcusable. He should be fired." Kurtzman’stated that "It is a scandal of unprecedented proportion when one of the most prominent figures in our community, a man who claims to speak on our behalf, publicly challenges the historicity of another community’s genocide. Foxman’s ADL no longer represents the interests of the Jewish community."
ANCEM Appeals to NPFH
In an August 3 letter to No Place for Hate Watertown, the ANCEM noted that "affiliation or acquiescence with Mr. Foxman’s unconscionable position on the Armenian Genocide seriously undermines the efforts of the NPFHa leader in the fight against bigotry and intolerance in Watertown.” The letter went on to urge the NPFH to call on Foxman to “publicly and unequivocally renounce its [ADL’s] denialist agenda.”
An ANCEM sponsored community petition called on No Place for Hate "in keeping with its principles" to " issue a public statement opposing Turkey’s state-sponsored campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide and call on NPFH sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), through its National Director Abraham Foxman, to openly and unequivocally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and support Congressional affirmation of this crime against humanity."
Within days, the petition gathered over 300 hundred signatures. To learn more about the Foxman/ADL genocide denial controversy visit: www.noplacefordenial.com
"No Place for Hate" is a community-based campaign established by the Anti-Defamation League geared to bring awareness to and fights against anti-Semitism, racism and all other forms of bigotry. Some 50 cities throughout Massachusetts are termed "No Place for Hate" zones, and participation is growing throughout the United States, including: Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Houston, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Omaha, NE; Philadelphia, PA; and Santa Barbara, CA, among other cities.