BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
For many years, Armenian-Americans have been frustrated and angered by the fact that a small number of influential Jewish-American organizations have been undermining congressional efforts to recognize the Armenian Genocide by providing political support to the Turkish denialist campaign.
At the same time, the Armenian community has been pleased that many Jewish groups, scholars and even some Israeli officials, contrary to their government’s policy of appeasing Turkish denialism, have taken a principled stand on this issue by not succumbing to Turkey’s blackmail.
As the Armenian-American community has become stronger politically and gained the support of numerous Jewish individuals and organizations in recent years, it has begun to actively challenge and counter all efforts at genocide denial.
The most recent controversy erupted last month when David Boyajian, a Boston area activist, sent a letter to the editor of the Watertown Tab, complaining about the fact that Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), had made statemen’s to the media casting doubt on the facts of the Armenian Genocide. Foxman was quoted as saying: "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 US Congress should be the arbiter, either."
Furthermore, the ADL, along with the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) recently forwarded to the US Congress a letter from Turkey’s small Jewish community opposing the pending congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
In his letter, Boyajian objected to the sponsorship by the Town of Watertown, Massachusetts, of ADL’s anti-racist program — "No Place for Hate" – at a time when the latter’s Director was making disparaging remarks on the Armenian Genocide.
In response to letters from several other readers, Boston area newspapers provided extensive coverage of this controversy and published editorials critical of Foxman and the ADL. The Watertown Town Council then held a hearing and, by a unanimous vote, decided to disassociate itself from the "No Place for Hate" program due to its affiliation with ADL. Other Massachusetts cities are considering a similar action.
The controversy widened when scores of Jewish-Americans openly challenged and harshly criticized Foxman’s indifference to the Armenian Genocide, finding it utterly unacceptable that the leader of an organization that fights bias would take such a cavalier attitude toward genocide. Many called for his immediate dismissal.
Andrew H. Tarsy, the ADL’s New England Regional Director, called an emergency meeting of the regional ADL Board which voted last week to urge the National ADL to revise its policy of genocide denial.
In response to mounting criticism, the National ADL posted a statement on its website — published this week as a paid ad in the Boston Globe and the Jewish Advocate — saying that the ADL "has acknowledged and never denied the massacres" of Armenia’s, while claiming that "legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past."
The ADL headquarters also sent a letter to the local ADL board, signed by Chairman Glen Lewy and Director Foxman, stating that the regional board does not have the authority to publicly advocate a policy contrary to ADL’s position. The letter referred to the Armenian Genocide as "a dispute between Armenia’s and Turkey" and described the genocide as a "massacre."
Foxman then fired ADL’s Regional Director Tarsy for challenging the ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide. In retaliation, ADL’s New England executive committee backed Tarsy and resolved to actively support the congressional resolution on the Armenia Genocide.
In a joint opinion column published in the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and Massachusetts State Representative Rachel Kaprielian called for an unequivocal affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and praised the regional chapter of ADL for doing so.
The dismissal of Tarsy created a major rift between the regional board and the ADL headquarters. Two prominent members of its New England Regional Board, Stewart Cohen, the former chairman of the Polaroid Corporation, and Boston City Council member Mike Ross, resigned in protest. They said that they could no longer be part of an organization that does not recognize the Armenian Genocide. According to press reports other regional board members are also contemplating handing in their resignations.
Another prominent Jewish leader, George Beilin — a past president of the North Shore Council of the B’nai B’rith Organization — called on Foxman to "resign immediately for the sake of the Jewish community in the United States and the world." Steve Grossman, a former ADL regional board member, called Tarsy’s firing "a vindictive, intolerant, and destructive act." The Boston Jewish Community Relations Council also came to Tarsy’s defense, issuing a statement in support of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Ronne Friedman, senior rabbi at Temple Israel, the largest synagogue in Boston, was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying: "I’m devastated to hear the news [of Tarsy’s firing]. I think it’s an inexcusable behavior on the part of the national office." For additional statemen’s and articles on this issue, please see: www.noplacefordenial.com.
Should Foxman not respond to calls, from the Jewish community and others, seeking his resignation:
— French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors, should be asked to rescind the Legion of Honor bestowed upon Foxman in 2006 by President Jacques Chirac, France’s highest civilian honor.
— Cities throughout the United States should follow Watertown’s lead and disassociate themselves from the ADL’s "NPFH" program, as long as Foxman persists in his denialist position on the Armenian Genocide.
Foxman’should step aside in order to prevent further damage to ADL’s good work. It is inconceivable that an organization that fights discrimination is led by someone who denies genocide. The new Director of the ADL should issue a clear statement acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and declare the organization’s support for the pending congressional resolution.