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:
- Other local communities started exploring the idea of cutting ties with No Place for Hate.
- The New England chapter of the ADL broke with the national group in acknowledging the genocide. The local chapter called on the national ADL to do the same.
- The next day, Andrew Tarsy, the regional director of the New England Chapter was fired for breaking with the national ADL by recognizing the genocide.
- Two members of the ADL's regional board resigned in protest of Tarsy's firing.
- Other Jewish groups started to pressure the ADL to change its stance.
- Finally, today, the ADL announced that it has changed its policy and will now recognize the slaughter of Armenians as genocide.
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.