NEWTON, ARLINGTON, Mass.–Hours after the release of a statement by Anti-Defamation League recognizing the Armenian Genocide but opposing the Genocide Resolution pending in Congress, the Newton Human Rights Commission Tuesday sent a strong message to ADL executive director Abraham Foxman that anything short of the unambiguous recognition of the genocide and full support of the Congressional resolution would result in Newton’s withdrawal from the ADL-sponsored No Place for Hate (NPFH) program, reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts (ANCEM).
Newton’s reaction comes a day after the Arlington NPFH Commission voted to suspend its ties with the ADL for its denial of the Armenian Genocide.
More than 40 community members attended the special meeting that was called to discuss the issue. “The small side chamber in City Hall could not hold the number of audience members present for that evening’s meeting,” reported the Newton Tab. “Residents of Newton, Watertown, Cambridge, Needham and other surrounding communities squeezed into that meeting room and trickled out into the hall.”
Reacting to Foxman’s statement, Newton Mayor David Cohen said, “Whenever I saw the word Armenian, in my mind I substituted the word Jewish. And whenever I saw the word genocide, I substituted the word Holocaust. And I said, would I be satisfied if this were the response of my leaders? And the answer was no!” In order for Newton to be satisfied and continue with the NPFH, said Mayor Cohen, the National ADL has to “do the right thing, recognizing the Armenian genocide and advocating for its recognition as they would any other genocide.”
Watertown Town Council vice president Mark Sideris was also in attendance and thanked the City of Newton for standing in solidarity with Watertown. Addressing the Commission, he said, “I want to applaud your committee and the Mayor for the stand that you’re taking. ; I think a message has been sent and we should be working together not only with Newton and Watertown but with many communities to continue the pressure on the ADL. Mr. Foxman took a step today but I don’t think it’s far enough.”
The Commission acknowledged that progress has been made but that the ADL’s proclamation does not go far enough. Commissioner Sona Petrossian said that the Human Rights Commission has to be comfortable under the umbrella of the ADL. At present, she said, this was not the case.
“There’s no one here that would not support NPFH 100 percent, but with the [ADL’s] backing, it’s becoming hypocritical,” said Commissioner Peter Brown
Members of the audience were then invited to address the Council. Anatol Zukerman, candidate for alderman in Newton, said, “Withdrawing from the program is the minimum that we can do to put the pressure on ADL because the ADL has been doing this for years and I don’t think Mr. Foxman is going to move another step forward toward the resolution of this crisis.” Commissioner Brenda Krasnow agreed, saying, “If it becomes a swell and more than one town withdraws, then I think you’ll see some action.”
David Boyajian, the Newton resident whose letter to the Watertown Tab ignited the NPFH/ADL controversy, commended the commissioners for sending a firm message to the ADL. “We’re not asking this just for ourselves,” he continued, “but for the sake of genocide prevention in general and as a human rights issue.” He went on to restate the two basic deman’s of the Armenian community: that the ADL leadership unambiguously acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and that it work for Armenian Genocide Resolutions in Congress. “We don’t want the ADL to continue to lobby under the radar,” Boyajian stated. “We want an explicit statement by them so that members of Congress understand where the ADL stands. An injustice has been done for a number of years by the ADL in stopping Armenian Genocide resolutions in Congress, and in working with Turkey over the years, against Armenian issues. If this doesn’t happen we do request that the NPFH sever ties with the ADL. But we hope it won’t come to that.”
“I’m here as a former ADL employee, someone who worked in the national office in New York and someone who is frankly very disturbed by what’s happening to a great organization with a really misguided national leader,” said Jonathan Shapira of Newton. “It’s going to take a lot of pressure on the national leadership and support for the regional board to get a change to happen.”
The ADL must promote the Genocide Resolution, urged Narini Badalian of Watertown. “When a country like America endorses Turkey’s denial of the genocide, it is sending a message to the world that genocide remembrance is selective and that private interests outweigh morality,” she said.
In calling the meeting to a close, Cohen stated, “Everyone in this room is united by one common thread, that is, they want to see justice for the Armenian people, they want to see a full and complete recognition of the Armenian genocide by the ADL and the ADL becoming one of the active supporters of legislation to have the U.S. recognize the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide. We are all prepared to go as far as we need to make sure that those things are realized.”
The Newton Human Rights Commission postponed a vote on the status of the No Place for Hate program and decided instead to wait for the outcome of the regional board meeting of the ADL to be held the next day.
The commission voted instead to unanimously support a letter sent to Abraham Foxman by Mayor Cohen in which he states: “I am in full support of the actions taken by the New England Regional Board of the ADL ; in recognizing the Armenian Genocide. I am also in full support of the legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Adam Schiff calling on the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
“The City of Newton, much like the Town of Watertown, has stepped up to the plate and put the ADL on notice that there is no room for ambiguity or waffling when it comes to this issue,” said ANCEM representative Joshua A. Tevekelian of Watertown. "The general public has spoken and will not tolerate politics over principle. The ADL must practice what it preaches and support the Genocide Resolution."
During an emergency meeting of the Arlington “No Place for Hate” Commission held Monday, August 20th, Committee Chairwoman Cindy Friedman and the 12 member Executive Board members voted to suspend the ongoing ADL NPFH certification process, citing the ADL’s Armenian Genocide denial. In a written statement issued following the meeting, the commission noted that “while we agree with the program’s goals, we feel that recent statemen’s and actions of the national leadership have undermined its integrity and ability to be effective.” The letter went on to praise former Regional Director Andrew Tarsy and the New England ADL “for their courage in standing up to the national organization’s position. We support them in their efforts to resolve this matter so that the Armenian genocide is rightfully acknowledged and the integrity of the No Place for Hate program can be restored.” Tarsy was recently fired by the ADL National for recognizing the Armenian Genocide and supporting Congressional adoption of the Armenian Genocide resolution.
The Arlington decision follows in wake of a letter from the ANCEM urging the NPFH Committee to reconsider their affiliation with the ADL. The August 20th letter, delivered to Board Member Joseph A Curro, Jr. by Arlington resident Lucine Zadoian-Kouchakdjian and other ANCEM activists minutes before the briefing, stated that “affiliation or acquiescence with Mr. Foxman and the ADL National’s unconscionable position on the Armenian Genocide seriously undermines the credibility of the NPFH in its efforts to battle against bigotry and intolerance in Arlington.” The letter went on to urge the “Arlington NPFH leadership to sever its ties with the ADL until such time as the ADL National leadership issues a public statement acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and calling for the adoption of Congressional legislation recognizing this crime against humanity.”
“The Armenian community and the Armenian National Committee would like to thank Mayor Cohen, the Newton community and the Arlington %u218No Place For Hate’ Board for the outpouring of support it has shown calling for the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide by the ADL. We have worked together for years to ensure that human rights violations, past and present, are not allowed to go unrecognized and unpunished, and the success we have had is encouraging,” reiterated Dikran Kaligian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee – Eastern Region.