Concerned by the Anti-Defamation League’s Denial of the Armenian Genocide, Town Council Cuts Ties with Tolerance Program Project Save Director Ruth Thomasian, the only Armenian American serving on the Watertown NPFH Committee, noted that “every member of the ‘No Place for Hate’ committee was appalled by the ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide.” She went on to express confidence that a reformed tolerance committee would “continue its good work in the schools and in the community.”
ANCEM Press Release
August 15, 2007
WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)—On Tuesday, August 14, the Watertown, Massachusetts Town Council unanimously voted to rescind its affiliation with the “No Place for Hate” anti-racism and tolerance promotion program, citing statements denying the Armenian Genocide by Abraham Foxman, National Director of the program’s sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts (ANCEM).
“The Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts applauds the Town Council for stating clearly and unequivocally that there is no place for Armenian Genocide denial in Watertown,” stated ANCEM chairperson Sharistan Melkonian. “We hope that this action will prompt the ADL and its National Director Abe Foxman to rethink their profoundly immoral policies on this issue, properly recognize the Armenian Genocide, and put an end their efforts to prevent its reaffirmation by Congress.”
The proclamation, introduced by Watertown Councillor-At-Large Marilyn Petitto Devaney, states: “The Town Council has become aware that the ADL, denies the facts of the horrific Armenian Genocide, that occurred from 1915 to 1923, in which the premeditated, systematic and deliberate murders of more that one and one half million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 took place, as well as continuing to deprive the Armenian people of a right to their history - The Town Council can not continue to join with such an organization.” The statement went on to reaffirm Watertown’s commitment to “celebrate its diversity and continue to honor its tradition of tolerance and respect for all people for which it has always been known.”
COMMUNITY MEMBERS AND ANCEM EXPRESS CONCERNS IN PUBLIC STATEMENTS
Several Watertown residents and civil rights activists spoke poignantly before an overflow crowd in attendance at the Council meeting to express their concerns about local affiliation with the ADL’s genocide denial policies, moving Town Council members to take decisive action and encourage other Massachusetts towns to follow their example.
In his remarks to the panel, Watertown’s “No Place for Hate” (NPFH) Co-Chairman Will Twombly explained that the NPFH committee had met with New England ADL Regional Director Andrew Tarsy and had asked for clarification regarding the ADL’s “unacceptable” position on the Armenian Genocide, which he stated, “could not be ignored.” A proposed amendment by Twombly and the NPFH asking for a 90-day suspension of the program, in an effort to turn the situation into a “teaching moment” for the ADL, was not incorporated in the final Watertown proclamation.
In his remarks, Tarsy highlighted the role of the ADL and its programs that celebrate and promote diversity and fair treatment. He went on to explain the ADL’s position on the Armenian “massacres and tragedy” – intentionally avoiding the term “genocide” -- and its role in pressuring Turkey to do more to “recognize and reconcile.” However, he noted that the ADL was in a difficult position due to the Israeli-Turkey relationship and the Jewish community in Turkey. While explaining that ADL was not opposed to the current Congressional Armenian Genocide resolutions (H.Res.106/S.Res.106), he made no mention of ADL National Director Abraham Foxman’s statements in the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe opposing Congressional adoption of Armenian Genocide legislation. It was particularly unsettling for Watertown’s Armenian community to witness the ADL’s genocide denial rhetoric first-hand.
Watertown resident Narini Badalian repeated the infamous Hitler quote about the annihilation of the Armenians. She went on to say that “ [In Watertown High School] I learned not to be bullied by politics.” After arguing for the importance of the historical record and pointing out the ADL’s hypocrisy, she concluded, “I don’t think the ADL has a monopoly on fighting intolerance.”
Twombly countered Tarsy’s efforts to explain Foxman’s reticence to recognize the Armenian Genocide, noting that “The ADL believes its position is justified for the well being of the Jewish community in Turkey. I say emphatically - the the ADL is ignoring a clear moral imperative [by denying the Armenian Genocide].”
Watertown resident and ANCA Eastern Region Chairman Dikran Kaligian commented on Tarsy’s assertion that Foxman and the ADL have not advocated against the Armenian Genocide resolution, stating, “When Mr. Tarsy or Mr. Foxman say, ‘We don’t believe this should be in Congress’- to say that as a person is fine and one thing- but when you say it publicly that’s lobbying,” explained Kaligian.
Watertown resident Lois Mastrangelo said, “When the ADL was founded, anti-Semitism was commonplace and accepted. There was indeed need for an organization and program to counter such bigotry... Unfortunately, in the last 30 years, the ADL has used its formidable resources to stifle debate about U.S. policy towards Israel and to monitor individuals and organizations and provide intelligence to local police departments, while defaming anyone who dares question ADL positions. … Because of ADL labeling tactics, segments of our society, including the Arab-Muslim community and Jewish peace activists, have been condemned in a climate of suspicion reminiscent of the McCarthy era,” she concluded.
Merrie Najimy from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said, “While the ADL does watch skinheads and the actions of the Klan, it does not spare First Amendment groups from its investigative activities.” She added, “I share the outrage of the Armenian community but there is a larger issue: The ADL has an agenda. We must ask ourselves if this is the group we want to be aligned with to advocate civil rights.”
In her statement before the Town Council, ANCEM representative Grace Kehetian-Kulegian explained that “We are confident that the just resolution of this matter will deepen Watertown’s commitment to tolerance, strengthen No Place for Hate’s ability to speak with real moral clarity, and - for the sake of its members and its own future as an organization - end the ADL’s truly unfortunate affiliation with genocide denial."
TOWN COUNCIL MEMBERS SPEAK OUT AND CAST VOTES
Prior to the vote on the proclamation, Town Council members had the opportunity to address the audience. Each thanked the hard work of Watertown’s NPFH committee and highlighted the positive aspects of the program; however, all were concerned with the ADL co-sponsorship in light of its denial of the Armenian genocide.
Watertown Town Council vice-president Mark Sideris commented that “the [NPFH] committee has done a great job in the schools... I think by Watertown withdrawing its support, it sends a message—a clear message—that something is wrong and they [ADL] have to do something about that...”
Councilor Stephen Corbett noted, “I really hate to lose the program. I would like to see us reconstitute the program under our own leadership. But I will support the proclamation. It is not often that a town council gets put in the center of state and national politics.”
Councilor Angeline Kounelis stated, “I am of Greek heritage and very proud. As a community we will walk together to make our lives better and our community stronger.”
Council president Clyde Younger, commenting on the heartfelt speeches made throughout the evening by Watertown residents, explained, “We haven’t had this outpouring of emotion for some years. When you come into the chamber, you never really know how you’re going to vote. You try to wait until you have all the facts... I also will be voting in favor of this proclamation.”
With Watertown having one of the highest concentrations of Armenians in the United States, the Councilors hoped to set a precedent by highlighting the improper stance of the ADL and, in their proclamation, urged national leaders to take up this issue. Council members expressed confidence that a similar tolerance program would be developed by the community—only without the ADL affiliation.
Proclamation author Marilyn Petitto Devaney promised that she would take the proclamation to other communities and the Massachusetts Municipal Association and encourage them to cut ties with “No Place for Hate” and the ADL.
After statements by Town Council members, Devaney introduced the proclamation, seconded by councilor-at-large Mark Sideris. It passed unanimously (8-0), rescinding the town’s partnership with “No Place for Hate.” A sign denoting Watertown as a “No Place for Hate” city was removed immediately.
Following passage of the proclamation, Devaney stated, “I believe it was important for the town of Watertown to rescind its membership in ‘No Place for Hate’ and end its affiliation with the ADL. With this proclamation, I plan to go to the other communities who have joined the NPFH network and urge them to sever their ties with the ADL.”
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Project Save Director Ruth Thomasian, the only Armenian American serving on the Watertown NPFH Committee, noted that “every member of the ‘No Place for Hate’ committee was appalled by the ADL’s position on the Armenian Genocide.” She went on to express confidence that a reformed tolerance committee would “continue its good work in the schools and in the community.”