Anti-Defamation League on the Armenian Genocide

May 13, 2016

As the still fairly new CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), I’ve been on the job less than one year. I’m fre­quently asked about our cur­rent posi­tion on his­tor­i­cal League deci­sions. One of those cru­cial ques­tions is where ADL stands with regards to recog­ni­tion of the Armen­ian Genocide.

My fam­ily was directly impacted by the Holo­caust. Given that pro­foundly per­sonal expe­ri­ence, I appre­ci­ate the pain of those who suf­fered losses even gen­er­a­tions ago and the need to remem­ber. I am reminded daily that we must edu­cate and take action against hate in our own time, as we vow “never again.”

There­fore, only a few weeks after the 101st com­mem­o­ra­tion of the tragedy, and on the occa­sion of Yom HaShoah, the remem­brance of the Holo­caust, I am using this oppor­tu­nity to make our posi­tion clear.

ADL is a 103-year-old orga­ni­za­tion and very proud of both its his­tory and its mis­sion to not only lead the charge com­bat­ting anti-Semitism, but to also fight against all forms of big­otry. We rec­og­nize and uphold a con­nec­tion between our lead­er­ship role to stand up for the Jew­ish com­mu­nity and stand up for other minor­ity and mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties at the same time.

Our mis­sion reflects the words of the Jew­ish Sage Hil­lel from 2,000 years ago: “If I am not for myself, who will be? And, if I am only for myself what am I?”

That con­nec­tion is both moral and prac­ti­cal: It is the right thing to do.

When we teach about the Holo­caust, we speak about the 2,000-year his­tory of anti-Semitism that made the Shoah possible.

We have a sim­i­lar respon­si­bil­ity to talk more broadly and recall that in our own life­time the world did not stand up against the hor­rors hap­pen­ing in Cam­bo­dia, Bosnia and Rwanda. Too often, the response to geno­cide has been global silence.

So, let me be crys­tal clear: the first geno­cide of the 20th cen­tury is no dif­fer­ent. What hap­pened in the Ottoman Empire to the Arme­ni­ans begin­ning in 1915 was geno­cide. The geno­cide began with the rul­ing gov­ern­ment arrest­ing and exe­cut­ing sev­eral hun­dred Armen­ian intel­lec­tu­als. After that, Armen­ian fam­i­lies were removed from their homes and sent on death marches. The Armen­ian peo­ple were sub­jected to depor­ta­tion, expro­pri­a­tion, abduc­tion, tor­ture, mas­sacre and starvation.

What hap­pened to the Armen­ian peo­ple was unequiv­o­cally genocide.

We believe that remem­ber­ing and edu­cat­ing about any geno­cide – Armen­ian, the Holo­caust, Bosnia, Rwanda, and oth­ers is a nec­es­sary tool to pre­vent future tragedies.

Our expe­ri­ence regard­ing the Holo­caust is rel­e­vant. When the first pic­tures of Auschwitz appeared at the end of World War II, there was wide­spread shame in the West­ern world at the real­iza­tion that anti-Semitism was deeply embed­ded across cul­tures and coun­tries and could pro­duce such hor­ror. That col­lec­tive shame helped to inhibit man­i­fes­ta­tions of anti-Semitism for decades. Now, as time moves on, as that sense of shame evis­cer­ates, it is no acci­dent that anti-Semitism has reemerged with full force. In other words, we must edu­cate each gen­er­a­tion about the tragedies of the past.

That is why I am speak­ing out today and why we would sup­port U.S. recog­ni­tion of the Armen­ian Geno­cide. Silence is not an option.

In many ways, we have made great strides in this coun­try fight­ing big­otry. Con­sider the great gains of the civil rights move­ment; the diminu­tion of anti-Semitism that lim­ited Jew­ish life in Amer­ica; the ascen­dance of the Latino com­mu­nity; the rev­o­lu­tion in atti­tudes and laws impact­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity. There have been set­backs and there is still tremen­dous work to be done, as exem­pli­fied by the stereo­types regard­ing Lati­nos and immi­grants as well as anti-Muslim rhetoric that has char­ac­ter­ized this unusual pres­i­den­tial campaign.

Col­lec­tively, this back­ground makes it imper­a­tive for groups who, sadly, share a his­tory of oppres­sion to stand together. When indi­vid­u­als or groups deny the Armen­ian geno­cide, as recently took place with a bill­board in Boston, ADL will speak out and denounce that denial. In that spirit, I am opti­mistic about greater coop­er­a­tion going for­ward to end all forms of hate and bigotry.

Statement by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Green­blatt regarding the Armenian Genocide