Genocide issue still in flux for ADL, national panel will weigh policy shift

August 23, 2007
Source: The Boston Globe (Massachusetts)

By Keith O'Brien

Under pressure from local board members, the national Anti-Defamation League will reconsider its refusal to support a congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide, the organization's national director said yesterday.

The decision to reexamine this issue was made a day after the director, Abraham H. Foxman, issued a statement saying that the ADL believed the congressional resolution to be "a counterproductive diversion."

But the ADL regional board forced the issue to the forefront yesterday when it met at a synagogue in Chestnut Hill and voted in favor of bringing back its fired regional leader, Andrew H. Tarsy, as well as placing the congressional resolution on the national policy-making agenda.

Foxman declined to say yesterday if he would rehire Tarsy or if he even met with him during his daylong visit to Boston. But he said the ADL's national policy-making body would take up the issue of the congressional resolution at its next meeting, beginning Nov. 1 in New York City, as the regional board requested.

"All they had to do was ask," Foxman told the Globe. "That's our procedure."

The panel has about 300 members, including many from the ADL's New England regional board and the regional board chairman, James Rudolph.

Rudolph, a partner in a Boston law firm, and Foxman have been at odds since the regional board and Tarsy publicly broke from the national office on the Armenian genocide issue last week. But after meeting with Rudolph yesterday, Foxman said he felt the two sides were a bit closer than they had previously been.

"I felt people listened, were willing to listen, were willing to discuss," he said. "There was very little anger, very little heat, a great deal of sensitivity and exchange."

This dispute began weeks ago in Watertown, home to more than 8,000 Armenian-Americans. Some residents there became upset when they learned that the ADL, which had long refused to acknowledge the genocide, was the sponsor of the town's antibigotry program, No Place For Hate.

Last week, the Watertown Town Council voted to pull out of the program. And with other towns considering doing so as well, the regional ADL board publicly broke ranks with the national office, saying the national ADL should acknowledge the genocide and support the legislation in the US Congress. Tarsy, making similar statements in The Boston Globe, was promptly fired.

"The reason that Andy was terminated was not his position; it was the process," said George Regan of Boston-based Regan Communications, who said yesterday he was hired to be a spokesman for the national ADL. "It's a little bit like the closer of the Red Sox publicly disagreeing with Larry Lucchino and John Henry."

Many Armenian-Americans, Jewish leaders, and members of the ADL regional board, praise Tarsy for taking a stand.

From 1915 to 1923, Ottoman Turks slaughtered as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what is now modern-day Turkey. Armenians, historians, and nations including France, Canada, and Britain have called the killings genocide.

But the Turkish government has refused to accept the genocide label, and until Tuesday, the national ADL refused to use it, as well. As an organization founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, the ADL has long expressed concern that acknowledging the genocide would have a negative impact on Jews living in Turkey, a rare Muslim ally of Israel, and on Israeli-Turkish relations.

Foxman reiterated those concerns recently. But in a statement Tuesday, he acknowledged that the Armenian massacres were "tantamount to genocide." In Boston yesterday, Foxman said he was told that this policy shift "would go a long way to healing some wounds and uniting the community."

Armenian-Americans feel differently. They are calling on the national ADL to follow the regional ADL's lead and take a stand supporting the resolution. Just saying the word genocide is not enough, explained Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America in Washington, D.C.

"The ADL's acknowledgement is a positive step forward, and their reconsideration of this policy is a positive step forward," Ardouny said. "The next logical step in the face of the ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide is to support the legislation."