Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No Place for Genocide Deniers

What started out as one man's crusade to be able to hate gays "and not be called on [it]" has now ventured into the world of international politics and landed on the front page of the Boston Globe. At issue is Watertown's participation in the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate program, and specifically, the efforts of ADL national director Abe Foxman lobbying against a Congressional resolution that would recognize the Armenian Genocide as exactly that. From the Globe:

Sharistan Melkonian -- chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts, based in Watertown -- accused Foxman of engaging in "genocide denial" in an interview with the Globe. She said she will call for the Watertown No Place for Hate program to sever its ties with the ADL unless it denounces Foxman's position and acknowledges the genocide.

In a separate interview, Foxman countered that it would be "bigoted" to dismantle a program focused on fighting hatred simply because the ADL does not share the Armenians' point of view. And Foxman maintained his position that the ADL, which has spoken out against ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and genocide in Darfur, does not have a role in the long-standing dispute between the Armenians and the Turks.
See this Daily Kos diary for more background on Foxman and the Armenian Genocide.

Previously, complaints about No Place for Hate were nonsensical claims about how it was some sort of left-wing mind-control conspiracy. But now that it has become known that the program's sponsors are linked to deniers of the Armenian Genocide, the controversy has exploded here in Watertown, which if you believe Wikipedia, has the third largest population of Armenians in the US.

The ADL's regional director Andrew Tarsy wrote a letter in last week's Watertown TAB trying to defend the ADL and Foxman's stance -- or lack thereof -- on the Armenian Genocide. Here's what he had to say on the matter:
Neither ADL nor our national director, Abraham H. Foxman, has lobbied against the legislation. Rather, when asked by media, we expressed an opinion that the issue was one to be resolved between the two countries -- Armenia and Turkey.

There may be disagreement with our opinion, but, as you rightly say, getting rid of "No Place for Hate" is not the answer.
Now the ADL has done a lot of admirable work, but I have to say that if someone had said the same thing about the Holocaust -- that it was a matter for Germany and Israel and the rest of us needn't have an opinion -- they'd surely consider that Holocaust denial and denounce it (as well they should). Certainly they would not chalk it up to a mere difference of opinion, as Tarsy does. Nor does Tarsy go on to explain that their 'opinion' implies that the US should not, in fact, recognize the Armenian Genocide. Given how concerned they are at fighting Holocaust denial, it seems to me to be hypocritical for them to turn around and deny an earlier genocide because they don't comment on "something that happened in the past". I also find it particularly offensive that Foxman himself would claim that it's bigotry to fight for recognition of the Genocide.

Personally, I can't fathom why the ADL doesn't have a position on the Armenian Genocide. After all, inscribed on one of the walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is this quote from Hitler himself: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" One would think that the ADL would take that seriously.

I do, however, understand that Israel needs the support of a friendly Turkey, and pro-Israel groups may be hesitant to antagonize that country. Still, fighting prejudice in general and genocide in particular sometimes means you have to be critical of your friends. I would have more respect for Foxman if he admitted that this was the real reason why the ADL refuses to take a stand, but that does not excuse his denials.

In any event, the position of the ADL on the Armenian Genocide has little effect on the work of the Watertown No Place for Hate committee, which is according to its chairpersons, an autonomous local group that "fully recognizes" the genocide. It does, however, receive program grants through the ADL. According to the Globe, the committee plans to meet with Tarsy and question the ADL's stance on the Armenian Genocide and will consider their options after that meeting occurs.

It would be the height of irony if the NPFH committee were forced to sever ties with the ADL because they didn't live up to their own standards. Yet that might be how it shakes out. I would hope that the Watertown No Place for Hate committee could continue its work without the support of ADL grants, either under that name or as a new group committed to promoting diversity and preventing hate crimes.