Editorials and Opinions

Forgive the ADL

By Alex Schneider
Published: September 2007

By Alex Schneider

Only a conversation with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel could convince Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Chair Abraham H. Foxman of the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The conversation could not have come at a more desperate time.

Over the summer, “No Place for Hate,” a program run by the ADL’s New England Office, came under scrutiny in Watertown when a sizeable Armenian population discovered that the ADL did not recognize the Armenian Genocide. Protests ensued and were met with a firm refusal by the ADL to change its position. The organization, founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism, has refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, fearing political retaliation by Turkey against Israel.  So citizens of Watertown decided to remove themselves from the “No Place for Hate” program. How could they continue to support an organization that had, in their minds, not lived up to its own standards?

The t rouble is that t he ADL never said that it did not consider the atrocities in Turkey to be important. All it had done was refuse to pursue congressional legislation that would officially label the atrocities a “genocide.” In pulling out of the “No Place for Hate” program, Watertown, followed by Belmont and Newton, took an uncomfortable situation and made it worse.

Andrew Tarsy, the New England Region ADL director wrote, “The people of Watertown…will no longer benefit from this well-respected and highly successful national program created by ADL to promote the reduction of prejudice, bias, bigotry and hatred of all kinds.”

Tarsy actually opposed the ADL in a last attempt to rectify the situation. He correctly realized that the situation had been blown out of proportion, and that calling the atrocities in Turkey a “genocide” would not be directly opposite to the interests of Israel. Still, in an unprecedented move, Foxman actually fired Tarsy a week later. After discussing the situation with Wiesel, Foxman changed his position and ended up rehiring the New England director and agreeing to call the atrocities a “genocide.”

Because it is possibly one of the most important local and national organizations that consistently speaking out against injustice, the hypocrisy of the ADL seems, at the onset, frightening. The organization was willing to put politics ahead of history and human dignity, supporting the nation of Turkey instead of the truth. And then, in the midst of the controversy, the ADL fired a man who stood up to what he believed was injustice. In other words, the ADL seemed to condemn standing up to injustice.

The ADL, a bureaucratic, national organization, showed that it could swiftly apologize for its actions and change its policies. Three days after firing Tarsy, Foxman released a statement on the matter: “On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of [the atrocities in Armenia] were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.”

The question, however, is whether those who voiced their disapproval of the ADL will recognize the organization’s importance in teaching the evils of hatred. Mayor David Cohen was wrong to sign the Human Rights Commission’s statement that Newton should leave the ADL, especially considering that the ADL has corrected its previous missteps.

Sometimes mistakes happen. The biggest mistake, however, would be to risk creating more hatred by not working with the ADL to combat hatred.

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