It must be understood that the Anti-Defamation League’s refusal to recognize Armenian genocide (in fact, they have actively lobbied against Congressional recognition) is not an aberration.
It is symptomatic of a dangerous mission creep that has betrayed the ADL’s important legacy. In the 1960s the ADL fought for the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. But their mission changed from fighting bigotry to including the defense of Israel, right or wrong. When one of those objectives comes into conflict with the other, protecting Israel trumps all, which, as the discerning citizens of Watertown have pointed out, would seem to undermine the ADL’s credibility as an organization dedicated to tolerance and justice for all.
(The ADL’s sordid history of spying on civil rights activists, and the release of clearly ideological enemies lists, are just a few examples of why so many people find their work suspect, which, as we’ve said, is too bad, given the important work they also do, like honorably defending “Arab-themed” public school principal Debbie Almontaser, who is Muslim, “against months of attacks from school opponents.”)
After enduring an extraordinary meeting in which resident after resident of Watertown got up and demolished the ADL’s embarrassing excuses for refusing to use the genocide word, and after almost getting kicked out of the room for yelling during the testimony of the Massachusetts American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) president Merrie Najimy, Andrew Tarsy, director of the New England ADL, changed his position.
Also, Andrew H. Tarsy, the ADL’s New England regional director who had defended the ADL’s position as recently as Tuesday, reversed course, saying the ADL should acknowledge the genocide.
“I strongly disagree with ADL’s national position,” Tarsy said in an interview with the Globe, declining to explain his change of stance. “It’s my strong hope that we’ll be able to move forward in a relationship with the Armenian community and the community in general.”
This morning, the Boston Globe reports that Tarsy was promptly fired by Abe Foxman. Local ADL leaders are furious:
“My reaction is that this was a vindictive, intolerant, and destructive act, ironically by an organization and leader whose mission — fundamental mission — is to promote tolerance,” Newton businessman Steve Grossman, a former ADL regional board member, said yesterday.
“I predict that Foxman’s actions will precipitate wholesale resignations from the regional board, a meaningful reduction in ADL’s regional fund-raising, and will further exacerbate the ADL’s relationship with the non-Jewish community coming out of this crisis around the Armenian genocide.”
As a Massachusetts Jewish peace activist suggested, is it time to watch the ADL self-destruct?
Read ADL national’s response to the New England chapter’s rebellion here.
The ADL is likely not going anywhere, but chances are that Abe Foxman is.
Armenian genocide denial is a product of ADL’s contradictory missions – to fight bigotry and protect Israel. Turkey does not want the genocide recognized. Israel does not recognize the genocide, which helps maintain their close relationship with Turkey, their only Muslim ally. ADL is acting in a sense on behalf of Israel.
However, sadly, Armenians are not the only victims of denial. The ADL is an active apologist for the government of Israel’s worst human rights abuses. Palestinians are victims of an insidious form of denial that is not just about memory and recognition, but flesh and blood and life itself.
By liberally swinging the charges of anti-Semitism at critics of Israel– Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian, even former presidents– the ADL has effectively insured that the critic is on the defense, and the spotlight is turned away from Israel and its shameful human rights record.
It’s an appalling betrayal of their mission, a shameful manipulation of the charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism, and a shame to many of us who know full well what has happened to Palestinians is unconscionable but who support the stated goals of the ADL.
The ADL should decide to either be an Israel advocacy organization, or a pro-tolerance and anti-bigotry organization, but it has proven time and time again that it is impossible for it to be both.