WATERTOWN–The Watertown, Massachusetts Town Council unanimously voted on Tuesday, August 14, to rescind its affiliation with the "No Place for Hate" anti-racism and tolerance promotion program, citing statemen’s denying the Armenian Genocide by Abraham Foxman, National Director of the program’s sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League, reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts.
"The Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts applauds the Town Council for stating clearly and unequivocally that there is no place for Armenian Genocide denial in Watertown," stated ANCEM chairperson Sharistan Melkonian. "We hope that this action will prompt the ADL and its National Director Abe Foxman to rethink their profoundly immoral policies on this issue, properly recognize the Armenian Genocide, and put an end their efforts to prevent its reaffirmation by Congress."
The proclamation, introduced by Watertown Councillor-At-Large Marilyn Petitto Devaney, states: "The Town Council has become aware that the ADL, denies the facts of the horrific Armenian Genocide, that occurred from 1915 to 1923, in which the premeditated, systematic and deliberate murders of more that one and one half million Armenia’s from 1915 to 1923 took place, as well as continuing to deprive the Armenian people of a right to their history – The Town Council can not continue to join with such an organization." The statement went on to reaffirm Watertown’s commitment to "celebrate its diversity and continue to honor its tradition of tolerance and respect for all people for which it has always been known."
Several Watertown residents and civil rights activists spoke poignantly before an overflow crowd in attendance at the Council meeting to express their concerns about local affiliation with the ADL’s genocide denial policies, moving Town Council members to take decisive action and encourage other Massachusetts towns to follow their example.
In his remarks to the panel, Watertown’s "No Place for Hate" Co-Chairman Will Twombly explained that the NPFH committee had met with New England ADL Regional Director Andrew Tarsy and had asked for clarification regarding the ADL’s "unacceptable" position on the Armenian Genocide, which he stated, "could not be ignored." A proposed amendment by Twombly and the NPFH asking for a 90-day suspension of the program, in an effort to turn the situation into a "teaching moment" for the ADL, was not incorporated in the final Watertown proclamation.
Project Save Director Ruth Thomasian, the only Armenian American serving on the Watertown NPFH Committee, noted that "every member of the ‘No Place for Hate’ committee was appalled by the ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide." She went on to express confidence that a reformed tolerance committee would "continue its good work in the schools and in the community."
In his remarks, Tarsy highlighted the role of the ADL and its programs that celebrate and promote diversity and fair treatment. He went on to explain the ADL’s position on the Armenian "massacres and tragedy" ‘s intentionally avoiding the term "genocide" ‘s and its role in pressuring Turkey to do more to "recognize and reconcile." However, he noted that the ADL was in a difficult position due to the Israeli-Turkey relationship and the Jewish community in Turkey. While explaining that ADL was not opposed to the current Congressional Armenian Genocide resolutions (H.Res.106/S.Res.106), he made no mention of ADL National Director Abraham Foxman’s statemen’s in the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe opposing Congressional adoption of Armenian Genocide legislation.
Twombly countered Tarsy’s efforts to explain Foxman’s reticence to recognize the Armenian Genocide, noting that "The ADL believes its position is justified for the well being of the Jewish community in Turkey. I say emphatically – the the ADL is ignoring a clear moral imperative [by denying the Armenian Genocide]." Watertown resident and ANCA Eastern Region Chairman Dikran Kaligian commented on Tarsy’s assertion that Foxman and the ADL have not advocated against the Armenian Genocide resolution, stating, "When Mr. Tarsy or Mr. Foxman’say, ‘We don’t believe this should be in Congress’-to say that as a person is fine and one thing- but when you say it publicly that’s lobbying."
Since Tuesday, Tarsy has changed his position and has broken rank with the ADL’s national leadership and Foxman. He has called on the ADL national organization to reverse its position and recognize the Armenian Genocide (Please see lead story)
In her statement before the Town Council, ANCEM representative Grace Kehetian-Kulegian explained that "We are confident that the just resolution of this matter will deepen Watertown’s commitment to tolerance, strengthen No Place for Hate’s ability to speak with real moral clarity, and – for the sake of its members and its own future as an organization – end the ADL’s truly unfortunate affiliation with genocide denial."
Prior to the vote on the proclamation, Town Council members had the opportunity to address the audience. Each thanked the hard work of Watertown’s NPFH committee and highlighted the positive aspects of the program; however, all were concerned with the ADL cosponsorship in light of its denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Watertown Town Council Vice-President Mark Sideris commented that, "the [NPFH] committtee has done a great job in the schools… I think by Watertown withdrawing its support, it sends a message ‘s a clear message – that something is wrong and they [ADL] have to do something about that…"
Councillor Stephen Corbett noted, "I really hate to lose the program. I would like to see us reconstitute the program under our own leadership. But I will support the proclamation. It is not often that a town council gets put in the center of state and national politics."
Councillor Angeline Kounelis stated, "I am of Greek heritage and very proud. As a community we will walk together to make our lives better and our community stronger."
Council Chairman Clyde Younger, commenting on the heartfelt speeches made throughout the evening by Watertown residents explained, "We haven’t had this outpouring of emotion for some years. When you come into the chamber, you never really know how you’re going to vote. You try to wait until you have all the facts… I also will be voting in favor of this proclamation."
With Watertown, Massachusetts having one of the highest concentrations of Armenia’s in the United States, the Councillors hoped to set a precedent by highlighting the improper stance of the ADL and, in their proclamation, urged national leaders to take up this issue. Council Members expressed confidence that a similar program would be developed by community members without the ADL affiliation.
Proclamation author, Councillor-At-Large Marilyn Petitto Devaney, promised that she would take the proclamation to other communities and the Massachusetts Municipal Association and encourage them to cut ties with "No Place for Hate" and the ADL.
After statemen’s by Town Council members, Devaney introduced the proclamation, seconded by Councillor-at-Large Mark Sideris, and it passed unanimously (8 to 0) rescinding the town’s partnership with "No Place for Hate." A sign denoting Watertown as a "No Place for Hate" city was removed that same evening.
Following passage of the proclamation, Devaney stated, "I believe it was important for the town of Watertown to rescind its membership in ‘No Place for Hate’ and end its affiliation with the ADL. With this proclamation, I plan to go to the other communities who have joined the NPFH network and urge them to sever their ties with the ADL."
The Watertown – ADL controversy erupted in recent weeks, with Boston area civil rights advocates, and local Armenian and Jewish American community members expressing disappointment and outrage at recent statemen’s by ADL National Director Abe Foxman denying the Armenian Genocide. Editorials and community letters in the local Watertown Tab and Boston Globe cast a shadow on the credibility of the anti-racism program, No Place for Hate, due to its affiliation with the ADL.
Text of Watertown Town Council Proclamation
WHEREAS: the Town Council on July 12, 2005 voted unanimously to proclaim Watertown a "No Place for Hate" municipality; and,
WHEREAS: The Town Council committed to fulfill the criteria in good faith, to join with its sponsors: the anti-defamation league, (ADL) Massachusetts Municipal Association and other coalition members to take specific actions to combat bias and promote respect for people, and
WHEREAS: The Town Council has become aware that the ADL, denies the facts of the horrific Armenian Genocide, that occurred from 1915 to 1923, in which the premeditated, systematic and deliberate murders of more that one and one half million Armenia’s from 1915 to 1923 took place, as well as continuing to deprive the Armenian people of a right to their history – The Town Council can not continue to join with such an organization.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Town Council of the City known as the Town of Watertown hereby rescinds its partnership of the "No Place for Hate" co-sponsored by ADL.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Council of the City known as the Town of Watertown, although it withdraws from the aforementioned group of municipalities, hereby proclaims that Watertown will continue to celebrate its diversity and continue to honor its tradition of tolerance and respect for all people for which it has always been known.
SPONSORED BY: MARILYN M. PETITTO DEVANEY, COUNCILLOR-AT-LARGE
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the Town of Watertown to be affixed on this fourteenth day of August, 2007.
CLYDE L. YOUNGER, COUNCIL PRESIDENT
ANCEM Statement at Watertown Town Council Meeting August 14, 2007
Presented by ANCEM Representative Grace Kulegian
I rise today to briefly offer the Armenian National Committee’s views on an issue of profound meaning to the Armenia’s of Watertown – and to all of our town’s residents who share our commitment to tolerance, respect for diversity, and – ultimately – to creating a world without discrimination and genocide.
Like all of you, we regret that the controversy over the Anti-Defamation League and No Place for Hate has reached this point.
But we could not remain silent in the face of such blatant hypocrisy on a core issue of our common morality – in the face of those who preach tolerance but practice divisiveness and denial.
We had hoped to resolve this issue based on our shared values.
But for the sake of our town, for the sake of No Place for Hate, and on behalf of the many kind and decent members of the ADL, we have taken a principled stand for the truth.
We did not invite this controversy – sparked by the hateful words spoken on behalf of the ADL, by one its misguided officials Abraham Foxman.
Words far outside the proud tradition of the ADL and entirely alien to noble legacy of the American Jewish community as a powerful voice for truth and justice.
Words that have grown more offensive and insulting with each new interview and article.
Words that echo the denialist rhetoric of the Turkish government.
Hypocritical words that strikes at the very heart of the ADL’s credibility, that undermine No Place for Hate’s ability to make a difference, and, sadly, stain Watertown’s reputation as a town that fosters diversity.
Although, we did not begin this conflict, we are committed to seeing this difficult issue through.
We are confident that the just resolution of this matter will deepen Watertown’s commitment to tolerance, strengthen No Place for Hate’s ability to speak with real moral clarity, and – for the sake of its members and its own future as an organization – end the ADL’s truly unfortunate affiliation with genocide denial.
This is an issue that deman’s action – clear and decisive action by the Council.
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.