LEXINGTON, Mass.–The Lexington, Massachusetts No Place for Hate Committee (LNPFH) blocked Lexington residents from a “closed” door unannounced meeting with the Anti Defamation League’s New England Regional Director Andrew Tarsy this morning, just one week after the Lexington Board of Selectmen held a meeting during which over 150 Lexington residents urged the town of Lexington to sever ties with the Anti Defamation League, reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts.
The LNPFH decision appears to be a direct contradiction to the state’s open meeting “sunshine” law which applies to all "governmental bodies" defined as "every board, commission, committee or subcommittee of any district, city, region or town, however elected, appointed or otherwise constituted.” The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law makes it clear that "a governmental body cannot circumvent the Law by delegating public business to a subcommittee."
The status of the Lexington NPFH committee is unclear and currently being debated. Although Lexington Board of Selectmen chair Jeanne Krieger stated at the September 24 meeting that NPFH is not a town committee, the town includes a full report of No Place for Hate in its annual report, it is listed on the town’s official web site, they often meet in town hall, and the committee includes representatives from the Board of Selectmen, Lexington Public Schools, the Lexington Police Department, and the Town Manager’s office.
Lexington residents Laura Boghosian, MichaelKouchakjian, and Nora Aroyan arrived for the 8 a.m. Town Hall meeting on time but were soon asked by a representative of the Town Manager’s office speaking for the LNPFH committee to leave the closed meeting, which they did, under protest, stating that they had a right as Lexington residents to be heard on an issue which affects their town.
“The closed door meeting today erodes the faith that we as residents of Lexington have in the process,” stated Lexington resident Bella Khachatourian, representing the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts. “Rather than listening to the residents of this town and resolving this issue once and for all by severing ties with the ADL, the Lexington No Place for Hate Committee has instead opted to turn to outsiders.”
“Many residents have called on LNPFH chairperson Jill Smilow, who is also a director of the Anti Defamation League–and who was at the Town Hall meeting this morning–to recuse herself from these deliberations because of conflict of interest issues. That request has been largely ignored,” continued Khachatourian. “And today, residents were not allowed to participate in an opportunity to continue to discuss and possibly resolve this important issue.”
Last week the Lexington Board of Selectmen moved their meeting at the last minute from Town Hall to the auditorium to accommodate the larger than expected number of local residents who wished to be heard on this issue.
Lexington resident Dr. Michael Kouchakjian urged the Board of Selectmen to “immediately sever its association with the No Place for Hate program of the Anti-Defamation League” stating that the “ADL has failed to unequivocally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and continues to abet Turkey’s genocide denial campaign and these actions place the ADL leadership in direct conflict with the very ideals that the No Place for Hate program aims to foster in our community. Genocide denial is the final stage of genocide. An organization that engages in genocide denial does not have the moral authority to sponsor a human rights organization in our town.”
Kouchakjian reaffirmed that the issue at hand was not with No Place for Hate, per se but with its association with the ADL. “Lexington’s No Place for Hate committee has accomplished valuable work in Lexington,” said Kouchakjian. “I would like to see these efforts continue.” He proposed that the Board of Selectman “reconstitute the group as an independent, town-sponsored committee. In this way, it would only be beholden to Lexington and not to the agendas of interests outside our town.”
Marlene Gebeyan, a Lexington resident and parent of two children, also addressed the Selectmen. "My children, all of our children, deserve to live in community that speaks up against hatred toward any individual. They deserve to live in a community that doesn’t discriminate against anyone and a community that teaches tolerance for everyone. They deserve to not relive the kind of hatred, discrimination, and intolerance that their great grandparents endured as survivors of the most horrific crime known: genocide.
Long time Lexington resident Laura Boghosian also asked the Selectmen to sever its ties to the Anti-Defamation League.
Reading from a statement she had presented directly to the LNPFH committee just three days prior, Boghosian declared that “an organization that engages in genocide denial simply does not have the moral authority to sponsor human rights, anti-hate, and anti-bias efforts.”
“For according to genocide scholars, not only is genocide denial the highest form of hate speech, it is the final stage of genocide. Elie Weisel calls it a %u218double killing,” continued Boghoisan She further noted that "While courageous Turkish scholars and writers such as Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Taner Ackam, and Elif Shafak have faced trial, death threats and exile for raising the issue of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, the ADL shamelessly partners with the Turkish government in their multi-million dollar campaign of genocide denial.
Speaking on behalf of many local residents, Boghosian also noted that “this is not just an issue for or about Armenia’s. It is a moral issue for all people. Denying any genocide, anywhere, sets the stage for future genocides.”
Boghosian acknowledged the role of the New England Regional ADL while also reaffirming its limitations. “We recognize and appreciate that New England’s Regional ADL board has opposed the policies of its national leadership and called for an unambiguous recognition of the Armenian Genocide and for the ADL to support the Congressional resolution. But No Place for Hate is a national program, and as such, represents the policies of the national ADL, not the regional.”
Nairi Khachatourian, a senior at Lexington High School, asked the Board of Selectmen to sever ties with the ADL. "I am fortunate enough to live in a town and learn in a school that promotes tolerance and understanding," stated Khachatourian. "However, the ADL has betrayed the trust that our town had in it by refusing to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide and by actively lobbying against Armenian Genocide legislation in the United States Congress."
Sosse Beugekian, also a student at Lexington High School, later echoed that sentiment. "The Anti Defamation League has for too long refused to call the systematic extermination and deportation of Armenia’s from their ancestral lands by its proper name ‘s genocide; The ADL not only refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, but they also actively lobbied our own government to defeat formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide. For this reason, I urge you to sever ties between Lexington and the ADL. How can the ADL possibly teach me about tolerance?"
Vicki Blier, a town meeting member and a Jewish Lexingtonian also addressed the meeting. “The problem w/ the ADL is that they are a human rights advocacy organization but they are also an international political lobbying group. And, political lobbying makes for extreme bed fellows.”
“I don’t think we would support in this town an organization that did good works but that was sponsored by another organization that denied the Jewish holocaust. I don’t think we should continue the relationship with No Place for Hate,” continued Blier.
"I agree with Laura Boghosian," stated ‘Children of the Holocaust’ author Helen Epstein also of Lexington. "The situation boils down to what Elie Weisel had said. The situation of a double killing. First there is the genocide and then there is the denial of the genocide.”
Lexington resident Anny Deirmenjian asked that the board of Selectmen send a strong and clear message to the ADL. "I sincerely hope that the national ADL changes its position regarding the Armenian Genocide;but until then Lexington can not allow the ADL in our town.”
ADL New England regional board member Howard Brick also addressed the meeting reaffirming that he had no issue with the Board of Selectmen calling on the national ADL to properly and unambiguously recognize Armenian Genocide.
Stating that he was not present to "at all quarrel with or question the anger of ADL national’s refusal or failure to unambiguously characterize what happened to the Armenia’s as a genocide. I am proud of the fact that the ADL New England regional board has pushed and continues to push to clarify that policy."
"I would submit to you that if you as a body want to make clear that you require an unambiguous statement from the ADL with respect to the Armenian Genocide, that’s fine.” Brick found issue, however, with what he claimed was a "host of very complex political, geopolitical foreign policy issues" with the non binding Congressional Armenian Genocide Resolution.
Dikran Kaligian, visiting professor of Armenian Genocide studies at Clark University and chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern United States as well as a graduate of Lexington High School, not only urged the town to help bring the ADL "back to the right side of the issue" but countered the claim that a non binding Congressional Resolution somehow put United States foreign policy at risk.
"A clear message must be made now;until the ADL repudiates its prior policy” that this town can not associated with the Anti Defamation League.
Chairperson of the LNPFH Committee Jill Smilow also addressed the board noting that LNPFH had met with local residents on this issue just three days earlier.
Smilow then read a statement from the LNPFH committee which noted that the committee recognized "the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century as one of the world’s greatest atrocities" but that they were not prepared to make a recommendation on severing ties, instead calling for " dialogue, discussion" and the “gathering of more information,” Lexington resident and Armenian Assembly of America Board of Trustees Member Noubar Afeyan spoke of the irony in the discussion given that on that very day the news media was almost unanimously condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the holocaust, and “rightly so.”
Afeyan further argued that No Place for Hate “has now been compromised because of the ADL” and urged the Board of Selectmen to “reconstitute the good of it without having to save the bad of it” which he said would be easy to do if [Lexington’s No Place for Hate Committee].were willing.”
The Lexington Board of Selectmen will meet again on October 15. “We hope the Board of Selectmen will do the right thing and sever ties with the ADL and instead put forth a human rights and tolerance program that works for all of our residents,” stated the ANC’s Khachatourian.