Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ADL Recognizes Armenian Genocide (Mostly)

One week ago today, the Watertown Town Council broke off ties with the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate program due to the refusal of the ADL to call what refer to the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as genocide and reports of the League's lobbying efforts to defeat a Congressional resolution that would recognize the Armenian Genocide. Since that time, this amazing chain of events has occurred:

Of course the ADL has not changed its stance on the Congressional resolution that would recognize the genocide as such. They still oppose it as something that would endanger Turkish relations with the US and Israel, as well as Jews living in Turkey. I understand these concerns, but isn't it somewhat worse to acknowledge the genocide but then claim that we shouldn't do anything about it because it's too contraversial? This strikes me as a half-measure, though it is at least a step in the right direction. The ADL's credibility has really suffered during the course of this controversy, and while they claimed that it was not one of their own making, every response they made to critics seemed to be formulated to generate the maximum amount of outrage, miring them deeper. One would expect more sensitivity from an organization created to combat bigotry and promote understanding.

On the other hand, former regional director Andrew Tarsy managed to come out of this looking like a hero. He did the right thing by refusing to wait for the national group to recognize the genocide, and he lost his job because of it. He took a lot of criticism here in Watertown for toeing the ADL line, and I'd like to think that part of the reason he changed course was because he came to town and met with the people the ADL's stance was affecting. If he had not called on the national ADL to change, it's unlikely that they would have done anything.

There's a lesson in this, and I think it's the opposite of the one from last week's Watertown Tab editorial. The Tab's editors looked at the situation as of last week and decided that it was evidence that Watertown should not get involved in "national or international issues". Leaving aside whether fighting bias is not a local issue (my personal experience in Watertown says that it is), I think that sentiment is exactly backwards. What this episode proves is that the measures we take in local government can, in fact, change the world. A 94-year old organization referred to the killings of Armenians during World War I as a genocide for the first time today in large part because our town council stood up to them.