Almost two years ago, a group of outraged students at UC Santa Barbara banded together. They united, just as citizens in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had done before them, to get campus and community entities to disassociate themselves with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and its No Place For Hate (NPFH) program.
The students came together in response to the immoral and callous decision by the ADL to issue a statement that they were against the passage of a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and were actively lobbying against it in the halls of Congress. Armenian Americans and humans rights advocates alike believed then and now that the ADL forfeited any moral authority to sponsor NPFH once it took a stance so inconsistent with such a profound human rights issue.
The road to get campus and community groups to disassociate themselves from the ADL’s NPFH program has encountered many obstacles and bureaucratic hurdles. Berj Parseghian, now a UCSB alumnae, and Garo Manjikian, former community organizer in Santa Barbara and current ANCA Legislative Affairs Director, began the campaign with an intense letter writing campaign aimed at encouraging a handful of campus organizations, which the ADL listed as participants of the NPFH program, to disassociate. Their hard work resulted in two major organizations, the University Religious Center and Empowerment Works, immediately cutting ties with the ADL.
The leadership of the campaign grew to include Amy Kaladzhyan and Shant Karnikian. These two students presented the issue at the Sacramento Issues Awareness Caucus of 2008 and gained the support of legislators such as Assemblymember Pedro Nava and Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, Chair of the Higher Education Committee. Back in Santa Barbara, Parseghian and Manjikian brought the issue to the attention of Chancellor Henry Yang of UCSB, who in turn urged them to continue the campaign and raise awareness of the issue among students because he “expects every community member to adhere to a set of values that include mutual respect, tolerance and civility.”
Fueled by the thoughtful words of encouragement from the Chancellor, a meeting was arranged between the leadership of the campaign and the Dean of Students, Assistant Dean, and the Director of Judicial Affairs, which lists ADL as a resource for students. The students took the opportunity to educate the UCSB administration about various issues surrounding the Armenian Genocide, as well as the importance of disassociating the university from an organization which, because of its opposition to the recognition of a crime against humanity, has no place on a college campus. The Armenian Student Association (ASA) organized a panel discussion to raise campus awareness about this issue and allow the ADL to present its side of the story. The panel was comprised of Shant Karnikian on behalf of the ASA, Antranig Kzirian from the Armenian National Committee-Western Region, and Chris Villavicencio on behalf of STAND: An Anti-Genocide Coalition. The ADL turned down the invitation to be a part of the panel. Oddly enough, the event was hosted at the Multi- Cultural Center, a campus organization that was formerly associated with the NPFH program. The deliberate and well-planned efforts of the students at UCSB have been effective. Presently there are no campus entities that are seeking certification from NPFH.
While the UCSB community has expressed grave concern with the ADL’s hypocritical stance on the Armenian Genocide, with many departments no longer seeking to renew their membership with the NPFH program, the issue has become one that is no longer focused on just the Armenian Genocide. In early March, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, invited a number of school officials and faculty members to a meeting to urge university officials to investigate charges of anti-Semitism against Professor William Robinson, a sociology professor who drew comparisons between Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the Nazi siege of Warsaw, Poland. The ADL was quick to respond to this incident in an attempt to limit academic freedom and yet they were nowhere in sight when the Muslim Student Association was victim to a print attack in the school newspaper, The Daily Nexus, by David Horowitz accusing them of being a part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is important now, more than ever, to fight against the ADL’s involvement in academic or even community affairs, especially in the Santa Barbara area. The students of UC Santa Barbara will continue to work to keep the genocide deniers at the ADL off their campus. These students, who are dedicated to human rights, are determined to set an example for other student groups, Armenian Americans and other minorities alike, to take action when they are marginalized by a more powerful entity.
Clearly, no one benefits when the sponsor of a community program diminishes a crime against humanity and denies the historical truth of any genocide. The ADL’s position as deniers of genocide is untenable. In southern California, the ADL has learned, the hard way, that they will enjoy no safe haven to practice genocide denial on the campus of UC Santa Barbara.