Thursday, August 23, 2007

Regional Board urges ADL National to reinstate Tarsy

By Raphael Kohan

The Jewish Advocate
Thursday August 23 2007

Committee also calls for vote to address congressional resolution
The New England Region of the Anti-Defamation League adopted two resolutions in an early-morning meeting Wednesday to address the rift between its office and national headquarters.
The resolutions, adopted unanimously – apart from one abstention – called for the reinstatement of fired Executive Director Andrew H. Tarsy and urged the national office to address whether it should take a “pro-active position” in a congressional resolution acknowledging the Armenian genocide.

Neither Tarsy nor National Director Abraham H. Foxman were present at the meeting, which was attended by about 70 board members.

“Everyone wants to move on,” Regional Board Chairman James Rudolph told the Advocate. “Our board is clear that we want to have Andy reinstated, if that’s possible.”

Speaking to the Advocate from Israel prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Combined Jewish Philanthropies President Barry Shrage said reinstating Tarsy would restore unity to the community.

“I think it will help the healing process in Boston, especially because the issue it stemmed from has been resolved,” he added.

Earlier this week, Foxman said Tarsy “fired himself” when he publicly dissented from national policy. Foxman also described Tarsy’s future with the organization as a management decision and “nobody’s business.”

Wednesday’s resolutions mark the latest development in the ongoing controversy that began in Watertown last month. On Tuesday, after mounting criticism and a community backlash, national ADL reversed its position on the massacre of Armenians during World War I, recognizing the events as genocide. Foxman explained in a statement that the organization changed its stance after he consulted with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and other historians.
The move came after dozens of Boston Jewish organization, spearheaded by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, signed onto a community statement that called on the ADL national office to “reconsider their position on this issue.”

Many local Jewish leaders welcomed the change from national ADL.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the JCRC. “The key issue here was the issue of genocide, and the change is important and positive.”

Those close to the matter said it was unusual for Jewish organizations to break ranks and publicly condemn a fellow Jewish group. JCRC’s community statement represented a shift in handling ideological disputes.

“I thought that was so hurtful and destructive,” said Foxman of the community statement. “I didn’t know any other way to stop this avalanche, which will undermine the Jewish community.”
Foxman’s new position on the term genocide, however, did not include a shift in the organization’s stance on a congressional resolution surrounding the genocide, which Foxman described as “counterproductive.”

“The significance of putting [the congressional resolution] on the national agenda is it provides an opportunity to discuss the resolution,” said Rudolph. “Personally, I’ve learned that the resolution is a very complex issue. It will be debated nationally.”

One of the recent challenges for the ADL has been reconciling its mission statement, which reads, “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people … to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” with its real-life policy. Prior to his dramatic reversal, critics called Foxman’s stance hypocritical, since he protects the memory of the Holocaust but refused to acknowledge the genocide of another people.

“Sometimes these missions are in conflict,” said Foxman.

Board Member Jason Chudnofsky suggested that Foxman needs to clarify the mission of the ADL.

“He’s gotten himself into a real challenge right now on his own mission statement,” said Chudnofsky.

Regardless of how Wednesday’s resolutions are handled by the national office, this controversy represented a blow to the ADL, according to Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University.

“I think this issue will weaken both the local and national organizations and will be looked upon as a case study of how not to deal with an issue of this sort,” said Sarna.

Meanwhile, Newton, Lowell and Arlington may follow Watertown’s lead in severing ties with the ADL-sponsored program No Place for Hate.

Khatchig Mouradian, editor of the Armenian Weekly Newspaper, said ADL’s new stance will have little impact on improving relations between the Armenian community and the human rights organization.

“There’s still a lot of outrage,” said Mouradian.

But what shouldn’t go unnoticed, he added, is the role of the Jewish community in prompting ADL’s changed stance.

“This recognition would not have been possible without the support of many righteous Jews and the Jewish community in general,” said Mouradian. “I hope this support continues until the ADL starts working for the resolution or at least stops working against it. I don’t want to give Abe Foxman a medal for recognizing the Armenian genocide after so many years of denying it.”

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