WATERTOWN, Mass.–The Massachusetts Municipal Association voted unanimously this week to end its sponsorship of the No Place for Hate program due to the Anti Defamation League’s (ADL) continued ambiguity about the Armenian Genocide and its active opposition to its recognition, reported the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts.
The action by the nonprofit, nonpartisan association of Massachusetts cities and towns, comes after at least 12 Massachusetts communities, including just recently the city of Peabody, have already withdrawn from the NPFH program, concluding that their constituents’ human rights needs are best served by dissociating themselves from the ADL. As of Wednesday evening all references to the No Place for Hate program had been removed from the MMA’s official website.
In a statement released on Tuesday, April 8, the MMA affirmed that, "the inconsistency between the National ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide and the human rights principles underlying NPFH is a matter of great concern to MMA Board members and the municipalities they represent. The MMA feels strongly that it is imperative to speak with absolute clarity on genocide and that, due to the NPFH program’s association with the National ADL, the Association will no longer be a sponsor of the program."
"The MMA made the right decision today, sending a clear signal that the ADL simply cannot be entrusted with the task of promoting tolerance and diversity in communities while it engages in the ultimate form of hate speech: genocide denial," stated Sharistan Melkonian of the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts.
"We appreciate the leadership of the MMA board and in particular Watertown town councilor and MMA board member Jonathan Hecht, who clearly understands the importance of speaking with absolute moral clarity about genocide and its denial," added Melkonian, whose remarks were cited in Boston Globe coverage of the issue
When asked about the MMA’s decision, Hecht said "the MMA did the right thing in deciding to end its sponsorship of the ADL’s No Place for Hate program. Its decision expresses justice and respect for the victims of the Armenian Genocide as well as understanding of the importance of accountability in preventing human rights violations large and small."
Earlier this week a joint letter signed by Sharistan Melkonian of the Armenian National Committee and Herman Purutyan of the Armenian Assembly was sent to every MMA board member calling on the MMA to ends its sponsorship of the NPFH program.
"While some may attempt to portray this inappropriately as a complex issue, our position is simple – any professed human rights organization, regardless of any other worthy activities, should neither deny a known genocide nor lobby against its recognition," the letter read.
"Although ADL’s motives for denying the Armenian Genocide may be based in geopolitical considerations, its discriminatory policies are entirely a local issue," continued the letter. "The ADL has for years violated the civil rights and dignity of many local citizens because it continues to engage in a form of holocaust denial. The ADL simply cannot be entrusted with the very task of protecting and upholding those rights. Some local citizens do not feel safe approaching their local NPFH committee for help on diversity and hate issues, as long as it is associated with the ADL, an organization that continues to practice the ultimate hate speech: genocide denial."
And, in mid February over thirty Massachusetts churches and organizations signed a letter calling on the MMA to respectfully rescind its "endorsement of the No Place for Hate program due to the ADL’s refusal to unambiguously acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and continued active opposition to US recognition of the Genocide."
The open letter continued. "While the achievemen’s of the NPFH program and the hard work of its members should be applauded, their work has been compromised by the policies of the ADL which has failed to live up to the standards not only of its own mission to "secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens alike" but also of a human rights organization by its position on the Armenian Genocide."
For the last several weeks, the ANCs of Central Massachusetts, Eastern Massachusetts, and the Merrimack Valley in collaboration with the ANC-led "No Place for Denial" team of activists, organized a massive Action Alert campaign to reach out to the MMA. Starting in late January, just after the MMA elected its new board, this campaign generated hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters to the MMA. The ANCA web site and the No Place for Denial website were used to drive this campaign.
In addition, residents of MMA board member towns and cities were urged, through person-to-person contact, to reach out and educate their individual MMA representative.
"This direct contact made perhaps the greatest impact as board members heard directly from residents in their own communities," stated George Aghjayan of the ANC of Central Massachusetts.
Pearl Teague of the ANC of Merrimack Valley agreed. "It is a tribute to the amazing commitment of residents of our great state that so many MMA board members heard first hand about the impact of a program tainted by genocide denial."
Also this week, the No Place for Denial team, sent a letter to every member of the MMA board urging them to "follow through with your promise to sever ties with NPFH due to the Anti Defamation League’s (ADL) continued mischaracterization of the Armenian Genocide and its active opposition to its recognition."
The letter focused on the local impact of the ADL’s denial by stating that "it directly affects the very ability of anti-bias groups [associated with it, such as NPFH] to function with credibility." It cited the Northampton, Massachusetts Human Rights Commission’s September 28 letter to ADL national director Abe Foxman which stated: "We cannot endorse selective recognition of hate by an organization that claims leadership in creating a world where there is no place for hate. This is an issue of direct relevance to citizens of our city and region who include survivors of the genocide as well as descendents of Armenian victims. Acknowledging the truth about the Armenian genocide not only has an impact on survivors and their families, it also has an impact on our ability to address other acts of hate."
Attached to the letter was a six page document comprised of statemen’s made by Massachusetts human rights advocates and elected officials criticizing ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide. These were compiled from video footage of town hall meetings, letters sent to the ADL by town Human Rights Committees, statemen’s made to the press and resolutions passed by town councils and selectmen’s boards from August through December of 2007. The document is posted on the noplacefordenial.com site: http://npfdinfo.blogspot.com/2007/10/statemen’s-by-human-rights-advocates.html
"This collection of statemen’s condemning the ADL’s unacceptable position on the Armenian Genocide, provided the MMA with some of the most compelling argumen’s about why the ADL had ceased to be a viable human rights organization," stated Sevag Arzoumanian of the No Place for Denial Team. "The fact that these testimonials came from the very people that the ADL had partnered with to build its NPFH program, made it all the more potent." The effort to urge the MMA to rescind its endorsement of the NPFH program began last year.
In December, the Watertown, Massachusetts, town council passed a resolution introduced by Councilor Mark Sideris urging the MMA to "immediately withdraw is sponsorship of the No Place for Hate program." Last summer, Watertown was the first town to end ties with the NPFH program with a proclamation introduced by town councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney who pledged to push the MMA to rescind its sponsorship of the program.
The MMA originally endorsed the NPFH program providing the impetus for many communities to adopt the program. Last September, however, the MMA acknowledged the ADL’s inability to adhere to the simple yet necessary standards required of a human rights organization and called on the ADL to unambiguously recognize the Armenian Genocide and support congressional affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.
The ADL has for many years refused to acknowledge that the systematic massacre of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 was genocide. To make matters worse, the ADL has actively engaged in efforts to oppose Congressional affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.
Only after intense pressure, which started in Watertown, Massachusetts earlier this summer did the national ADL issue a "Statement on the Armenian Genocide" on August 21, 2007.
Referring to the events of 1915-1918, the statement declared, "The consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide." Aside from the fact that the Armenian Genocide began in 1915 and continued through 1923, the statement was not a full, unequivocal acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.
Not only was the qualifier "tantamount" inappropriate, but the use of the word "consequences" was a clear attempt to circumvent the international legal definition of genocide by avoiding any language that would imply intent, a crucial aspect of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention definition.
The ADL remains on the record opposing Armenian Genocide legislation (H.Res.106 / S.Res.106) pending in Congress, arguing that short-term geopolitical considerations related to Turkey-Israel-US relations should take precedence over the moral imperative of condemning genocide whenever and wherever it occurs.
The ADL convened its national meeting in New York City in early November at which time the issue of the Armenian Genocide was discussed.
Upon conclusion, a one-sentence press statement was issued that "The National Commission of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today, at its annual meeting, decided to take no further action on the issue of the Armenian genocide."
The controversy first came to light on July 6 when the Watertown Tab published a letter by Armenian American activist David Boyajian that spotlighted ADL national director Abe Foxman’s statemen’s opposing Congressional Armenian Genocide legislation. The letter asked the local "No Place For Hate" chapter to disassociate itself from the ADL.
The situation intensified in an explosive August 1 front page Boston Globe article in which the ANC’s Melkonian condemned Foxman’s genocide denial and stated that the ANC 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."
Later an ANC-sponsored community petition called on the Watertown No Place for Hate committee "in keeping with its principles" to urge the ADL to unambiguously acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and support Congressional affirmation.
Watertown then became the first town to end its relationship with the No Place for Hate Program by a unanimous vote of the Town Council.
At what is now considered a historic meeting, ANC spokesperson Grace Kehetian Kulegian addressed the Watertown Town Council on August 14 stating that, "On behalf of Watertown’s Armenian community–and our century-long history of service and sacrifice for our town–we call upon the Town Council to dissociate itself from the ADL until such time that: The Anti-Defamation League, through its National Director, Mr. Foxman, openly and unequivocally acknowledges the Armenian Genocide and supports congressional affirmation of this crime against humanity." This meeting set the stage for numerous other public meetings in communities throughout Massachusetts, where the ANC and local activists brought this issue to the attention of human rights commissions and town and city councils.
Watertown was followed by eleven other Massachusetts municipalities including Belmont, Newton, Arlington, Northampton, Bedford, Lexington, Westwood, Medford, Needham, Newburyport, and Peabody.
For complete information about the ADL controversy surrounding the
Armenian Genocide visit www.noplacefordenial.com
Statement by the Massachusetts Municipal Association
April 8, 2008
MASSACHUSETTS MUNICIPAL ASSOCIATION
The Massachusetts Municipal Association firmly believes that in order to build and sustain strong and vibrant communities throughout the Commonwealth, it is essential to promote and protect basic human rights, mutual understanding, and reconciliation.
In a resolution adopted on September 11, 2007, the MMA Board of Directors stated that the terrible crimes committed against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 must be recognized as genocide. In its resolution, the MMA applauded the New England Regional Director and New England Regional Executive Committee of the ADL for unequivocally recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The MMA further called on the National ADL to adopt the position of the New England Region at the ADL’s National Commission meeting in November and to support the Congressional Resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
The MMA Board of Directors expresses its strong disapproval that the National ADL did not use the opportunity of its November meeting to clarify and strengthen its earlier statemen’s concerning recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The Board believes that unequivocal recognition of the Armenian Genocide is both a matter of basic justice to its victims as well as essential to efforts to prevent future genocides.
Since 1999, the MMA has been an official sponsor of the No Place for Hate (NPFH) program offered by the New England Region of the ADL. The NPFH program is intended to assist municipalities in Massachusetts to combat bias and promote tolerance. By helping to reduce acts of violence and discrimination, NPFH has brought important tangible benefits to the cities and towns, which have chosen to participate in the program. It stands as a worthy monument to the good works of the man who inspired its creation, the late Leonard Zakim.
The inconsistency between the National ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide and the human rights principles underlying NPFH is a matter of great concern to MMA Board members and the municipalities they represent. The MMA feels strongly that it is imperative to speak with absolute clarity on genocide and that, due to the NPFH program’s association with the National ADL, the Association will no longer be a sponsor of the program.
While these issues will continue to be discussed by municipalities and concerned individuals, the NPFH program has changed. The New England Region of the ADL recently announced that the NPFH program is moving to a community-based model. The program will be available as a resource to community and civic groups but will no longer seek local government sponsorship or certify cities and towns as NPFH communities.
For Massachusetts municipalities that seek a program specifically designed for local governmen’s to promote tolerance, combat racism and discrimination, and facilitate community building, the MMA commen’s the National League of Cities Inclusive Communities program, which can be accessed via the NLC’s website (www.nlc.org). The NLC’s program includes 190 cities and towns in 40 states and provides an ever-expanding toolbox for municipal officials.