Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jewish American org's revise position on Armenian Genocide

This article was first published in the August 25, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

ADL affirms Genocide, fears for the safety of Jews in Turkey
by Emil Sanamyan

WASHINGTON - In the face of mounting criticism of its refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide, the national leadership of the Anti-Defamation League reversed course on Tuesday, August 21, and issued a statement characterizing the destruction of Armenians in Asia Minor in 1915-17 as "tantamount to genocide."

The city council of Watertown, Mass., on August 14 had voted unanimously to rescind its cooperation with the ADL on the organization's "No Place for Hate" program, noting that the ADL "denies the facts of the horrific Armenian Genocide." (The full statement appeared in last week's issue of this newspaper.) The editorial page of the Boston Globe on August 3 had urged the ADL to reverse course, as had numerous Jewish-Americans.

In response, the National ADL had published an ad in the Boston Globe and the Jewish Advocate, saying that the ADL "has acknowledged and never denied the massacres" of Armenians, but once again avoiding the word "genocide."

The regional director of the ADL, Andrew Tarsy, criticized the national leadership's position. He was fired. Two members of the ADL's regional board resigned in protest of the firing. Editorial writers and community leaders in New England and beyond weighed in, almost unanimously calling for the ADL to reverse course. Some called for National Director Abe Foxman to be removed from office.

* A reversal

Then, on August 21, ADL national chair Glen S. Lewy and Mr. Foxman issued a statement acknowledging the Genocide.

"Because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians," they wrote. "On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide." (The full statement appears on Page A3.)

Henry Morgenthau was the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

The national ADL did not, however, change its position on the Armenian Genocide resolutions in Congress. "We continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States."

* AJC clarifies its position

Also on August 21, David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote at length on the subject in the Jerusalem Post Blog. (The full statement appears on Page A4.) He acknowledged the Genocide and recalled that in 1993 the AJC had published a book, Holocaust Denial, which noted, "That the Armenian genocide is now considered a topic for debate, or as something to be discounted as old history, does not bode well for those who would oppose Holocaust denial."

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also began a process of examining its position on the Armenian Genocide, executive vice-chair Michael Hoenlein confirmed to the Jewish Telegraph Agency on August 22. The ADL and AJC are among the 50 members of the conference.

* Mixed reaction

The ADL's new position on the veracity of the Genocide was welcomed by Armenian-American groups, as was the AJC's clarification.

"I think it only helps the legislation," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) told the Boston Globe. "I think it shows that even long-standing reservations about the genocide itself are crumbling in the face of community pressure and facts. The opposition is falling apart."

But the ADL was criticized for its continued opposition to congressional resolutions on the Armenian Genocide.

The New England regional board of ADL met on August 22, voted to reinstate Mr. Tarsy, and pushed for reconsideration of the ADL's position on the Armenian Genocide resolution, the Globe reported the next day. Mr. Foxman confirmed that the ADL's national board will take up the latter subject during its next meeting on November 1 in New York City.

During an August 22 meeting in Newton, Mass., local resident David Boyajian, whose July letter to the Watertown Tab ignited the controversy, said the campaign against ADL's position would continue unless there is "an explicit statement by [the ADL] so that members of Congress understand where the ADL stands," the ANCA reported.

* Turkish threats

Ross Vartian of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee focused on the ADL's given reasons for its refusal so far to support the Genocide resolutions. He told the Armenian Reporter, "Mr. Foxman has repeatedly explained why there was such a gap for such a long time between known truth and public affirmation -- Turkish threats against Israel and the Jewish community in Turkey. We believe that the best way to deal with threats against Israel and the Jewish community in Turkey is for Jews and Armenians to join forces in confronting the source of such threats," he added.

In his blog post, Mr. Harris of the AJC noted: "Picture a day when a muscle-flexing Iran or Saudi Arabia seeks to make denial of the Holocaust a condition of doing business with other countries. Sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. We have many interests as a Jewish people. Protecting historical truth ought to be right up there near the top of the list."

Meanwhile, Turkish officials at the highest levels have expressed their displeasure over changes in the position of Jewish-American organizations. According to Turkish media reports, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül met Israeli Ambassador Pinhas Avivi to express "disappointment."

On August 22, the Turkish Foreign Ministry hosted a meeting with the government's "experts" and "advisors" to strategize on how to "win back the hearts of Jewish Americans," the Turkish Daily News reported the next day, adding that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to host a similar session soon.

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