2007.08.27 -- Watertown Tab: Letters to the Editor

08/27 -- TAB ignored important criticisms of ADL

I am writing to express my disappointment of the TAB’s coverage (“Will ‘No Place for Hate’ debate spread?” Aug. 16) of the historic Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14. As an Armenian-American member of the audience, I was stunned to open up the Watertown TAB for coverage of the event, and see that two of the most important and best-received presentations of the evening had been edited out of the story. I am referring to the presentations of Lois Mastrangelo and Merrie Najimy, both prominent members of the community.

Lois Mastrangelo is the wife of the late Richard Mastrangelo, former president of the Watertown Town Council — after whom the meeting hall we were in is named.

She is also a leader in the local peace movement. Merrie Najimy is the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a prominent human rights activist and multicultural educator. Her presentation — and its interruption by Andrew Tarsy, regional director of the New England Anti-Defamation League at the time — produced one of the most dramatic moments of the evening, which resulted in his storming out of the council hall. Several observers wondered if it hadn’t been the “straw that broke the camel’s back” leading to Tarsy’s about-face the next day.

One would think that a newspaper would report such a dramatic scene, rather than try to avoid any mention of it like the plague — much like Andrew Tarsy’s avoidance of the word “genocide” in his speech.

Should we believe, then, that what made the two women’s presentations too hot to handle for the TAB was that they didn’t just limit their remarks to a condemnation of the ADL’s denial of the Armenian Genocide? Instead, they went further and addressed the broader implications of the ADL’s modus operandi:

Whenever there’s a conflict between defending a civil or human rights principle and defending the interests, however narrowly defined, of the State of Israel, the ADL appears to tilt in favor of the latter.

Unfortunately, speaking of the ADL’s surveillance of anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s is still considered taboo, as is its promiscuous use of the “anti-Semite” label to discredit any serious criticism of Israeli policies, the smearing of Jimmy Carter for daring to expose the brutality of occupation, and the harassment of Arab and Muslim activists. As if it were unthinkable that an organization that shamelessly covers up the first genocide of the 20th century would have serious qualms about performing any of the above.

Alik Meguerditchian

08/27 -- Is sewage a higher priority than readers’ concerns?

While newspapers, magazines and bloggers throughout the country are praising the Watertown Town Council for its courage, strength and morality, our own town newspaper is chiding it for time lost on more practical matters (Editorial, “Don’t save the world, save Watertown,” Aug. 16).

Should we believe, then, that the TAB places a higher priority on sewage problems than the emotions and concerns of its readers? Let’s stop pretending that an hour spent on discussing this issue last week has forever stalled the Town Council from solving other problems in our community.

Nayiri Arzoumanian
Westland Road

08/27 -- Editorial was condescending

I found your article of Aug. 16 editorial “Don’t save the world, save Watertown” to be quite condescending. You have become numb to the fact that in a country as large as the United States most change throughout our history has begun on a local level.

I find it insulting that you wish to render the leaders of Watertown to bureaucrats. It would be similar if they asked of you, a newspaper editor, to simply do the essential parts of your job and report facts and keep your opinions to yourself. As a lifelong Watertown resident, I expect my representatives to do exactly that, represent the voice of the people. The people spoke last Tuesday Aug. 14, and just because you do not like their wishes does not give you the right to minimize a historical event, to smother the pain and truth of the Armenian Genocide, and to suggest that local leaders become pencil-pushers.

Narini Badalian
Walnut Street

08/27 -- ‘Local-only’ approach hurts town’s well-being

Editorials are by their nature opinions that may or may not be supported by facts. They can rely on “conventional wisdom,” reinforce myths and even insult individuals and institutions. Readers can accept or reject the opinions expressed in an editorial, agree or disagree with its facts, challenge its implications, and question its intentions. Stealing a page for past TAB editorials, I gave the overall impact of “Don’t save the world, save Watertown” (Aug. 17) a “thumbs down.” The editorial covered a lot of ground, and so does my response.

The initial paragraphs of “Don’t save the world, save Watertown” provide the reader with a quick summary of recent developments regarding the program “No Place for Hate,” an issue that has been heavily covered in the last three editions of the TAB by articles, opinion editorials and letters to the editor. The issue was also covered, though to a lesser extent, in the Boston Globe.

The Town Council last week voted unanimously to end its ties with the “No Place for Hate” program that is a product of the Anti-Defamation League. The council’s decision was based on the fact that the ADL did not recognize the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915-1923 as genocide. Support for this decision was strong as over 100 individuals, many from the Armenian community, attended the council meeting.

TAB reporter Jillian Fennimore’s news article, “Will ‘Hate’ debate spread?” (Also Aug. 17) describes the Town Council hearing and reports the ADL’s rationale for not recognizing the Armenian genocide as well as the opinions of many Watertown residents and town councilors who find the ADL’s position and rationale unacceptable.

Unfortunately, Ms. Fennimore fails to mention the presentations of two Watertown citizens, one who is the president of the local chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Defamation Committee. The audience responded in loud applause and approval as the two speakers detailed the ADL’s intolerance for anyone who criticizes the action of the Israeli government and the ADL’s history of using innuendos and half-truths to discredit Arab-Americans and Arab-American organizations. Let us hope that this information also informed the vote of individual councilors.

The “Don’t save the world, save Watertown” editorial also mentions the fine work of the all-volunteer “No Place for Hate” committee. A good example is the group’s current project to translate information about town services and resources (public and private) into a number of languages for Watertown residences whose first language is not English. I believe the vast majority of Watertown residents would agree that efforts to address prejudice and bigotry and projects designed to herald the value of diversity and to ease the transition for newcomers to Watertown are worthy of our support, and that a new vehicle to continue this work can and will be found.

After reading the opening paragraphs of “Don’t save the world, save Watertown,” I wondered what whether the editorial was titled incorrectly. But by the end of the editorial, my confusion disappeared.

The TAB was once again scolding Watertown residents and elected officials for addressing issues that they believed had nothing to do with Watertown. Let’s batten down the hatches and “not meddle in any issue that is not strictly about Watertown.” Watertown needs to insulate and isolate itself from those “smarmy politicians” in cities like Cambridge and stopping wasting its “civic energy” on issues like “No Place for Hate.” Voters should know better than to urge their elected officials to “spend time on empty symbolism.”

It is the TAB’s opinion that the job of Watertown’s elected officials is to make sure the town manager and his department heads fill the potholes, pick up the trash, arrest law-breakers, and keep the parks clean and safe. In short, voters elected councilors to be watchdogs on activities that only pertain to the smooth functioning of Watertown. Citizens with concerns about anything else should find other venues at which to discuss them.

Take your issues to your house of worship, cultural society or advocacy organization, and bring your concerns to your state and national elected officials. Most importantly, remember that unless your issue is purely about Watertown and how town government functions, keep it out of the Town Council.

This approach is unrealistic and detrimental to the well-being of Watertown, its residents and its future. Local issues are naturally related to state, regional and national issues. To be sure the pothole in front of your driveway is not the responsibility of state government, but the amount of state tax dollars earmarked for local aid to cities and towns can effect when the pothole gets filled.

A proposal for a regional recycling plant may not have to be voted upon by the Town Council, but I sure would want to see our elected officials actively involved in monitoring such a plan.

The fact that the federal government is spending a billion dollars a month on the Iraq war while there is less and less money available for fixing the bridges that Watertown residents travel each day deserves the attention of town officials. The list can go on and on. Watertown’s economic, social and civic well-being does not exist in isolation of statewide, regional and national policies and priorities. To assume so and to therefore restrict our elected officials from learning about and being involved in the world in which Watertown exists is imprudent.

As an elected body, the Town Council has access to the well-known “bully pulpit.” It has a responsibility to use its pulpit with care and respect to address the concerns and issues that affect the lives of the people they represent.

Tony Palomba
Oakley Road

08/27 -- Jewish man is appalled at Foxman

As an outraged Jew, I wish the Armenian community of Watertown to know that I am behind them 100 percent and am appalled, and have always been appalled, at Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

Jews and Armenians alike have suffered greatly at the hands of the Turks, and I am ashamed when Jewish leaders in their pathetic attempt to curry favor with Turkey distort history and attack our Armenian friends.

Gamaliel Isaac
Highland Park, N.J.

08/27 -- Tarsy deserves praise

Mr. Andrew Tarsy is to be congratulated for his decision to follow his convictions and not the official Anti-Defamation League national office line. Unfortunately, he lost his position as the New England regional director, yet he gained much kudos and many new supporters for his principled approach towards the unequivocal acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.

ADL’s ultimate purpose is “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens,” per its charter.

These words and ideals, as noble as they may be, apparently fall on deaf ears within the walls of ADL national office, demonstrated by their actions to stifle constructive and principled dissent. How can one person ask another to fight abuses of human rights, bigotry and genocide/holocaust denial, when he is not willing to do so himself, no matter what the excuse? It is up to us all as proud American citizens, to let Mr. Abraham Foxman know that we do not stand for bigoted ideology, especially when it’s cloaked under the proud name and tradition of the ADL.

Ara Nazarian

08/27 -- Foxman is a modern-day Janus

Janus: Roman god of gates and doors; represented with two opposite faces.
Or to be more succinct, god of hypocrisy.

Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is a modern-day Janus. In what can only be called a blatant public relations cleanup effort, Foxman has “officially acknowledged the genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks more 90 years ago,” according to the Aug. 22 Boston Globe.

But he stops there, because the other side of his mouth is busy saying that a resolution pending in Congress to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide is “a counter-productive diversion.” In other words, the ADL won’t go that far.

Foxman claims he has “privately” considered what happened to the Armenians more than 90 years ago as genocide, but private thoughts don’t get press coverage. Firings, resignations and local controversies escalating to the national level do. So, like any other public figure with a lot of sweat on his brow would do, he decides to formalize his “private” thoughts into a more publicity-friendly organizational policy.

Abe “Janus” Foxman has a long way to go before he and the ADL are back in the public embrace. But when all is said and done, I’m not sure he’ll be able to keep the other side of his mouth shut forever.

Stephanie Karakozian
Duff Street