Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Newton Human Rights Commission Ceases Participation in NPFH

Town Refuses to be ‘In the Same Boat’ with ADL
By Khatchig Mouradian

NEWTON, Mass. (A.W.)—Generations of Americans converged at Newton City Hall on Sept. 11 to make their voices heard to the local Human Rights Commission (NHRC) meeting, which, after deliberations, unanimously voted to cut their ties with the ADL’s No Place for Hate (NPFH) program until the former unequivocally recognizes the Armenian genocide and supports H.R.106 in Congress, thereby affirming the historical record.

Commissioners and Advisory Council Members

In a letter dated Aug. 24, the NHRC had asked the ADL to recognize the Armenian genocide, actively support H.R.106 and rehire the ADL’s New England regional director Andrew Tarsy.
During the Sept. 11 meeting, commissioner Marianne Ferguson noted that although Tarsy has since been rehired, unequivocal recognition and support for the Genocide Resolution had not been achieved.

Advisory Council member Dianne Chilingerian expressed concern about the ADL’s position on the Genocide Resolution, which she considered inconsistent with its mission. She said that she is bothered by the ADL’s position as a human rights activist, and that this is not just an Armenian issue. Student Advisory council member David Fisher asked how we expect to end genocide campaigns today “when we still can’t recognize what happened 92 years ago.”

ADL Regional Board Members

Emphasizing that he was not speaking on behalf of the ADL, the organization’s NE Regional Board member Gerry Tishler said, “I have studied, thought and written about the Armenian genocide and it wasn’t ‘tantamount to genocide’ it was genocide. … I am also in favor of the U.S. government acknowledging and commemorating the Armenian genocide.” He noted that the meeting of the ADL’s national commissioners will discuss the issue in November, though said that continuing with the NPFH should not be based on that outcome. “If you make it conditional, you are making a bad mistake,” he said, noting how much the ADL has added to the town’s programs.

NE Regional Board member Beth Tishler also argued the importance of not dissociating from the NPFH, adding, “We have stood up and gone against our national leadership. We have heard you. The National ADL has heard you.”

ADL National commissioner David Apel said that ADL national director Abe Foxman “is not empowered” to support the Genocide Resolution, and that “your message will be brought forth to the national commissioners in November.” In response, members of the audience pointed out that while Foxman seems to be able to change his position daily on the Armenian issue, he needs the green light from the commissioners to properly acknowledge the truth about 1915.

“I reject the notion that we are misguided citizens,” continued Apel. He said the last few months had been a learning experience for him and many others, and that everyone in the room was in the same boat. “Give us time till November,” he added.

Members of the Audience

Newton residents, university professors, human rights activists, students, descendents of Armenian genocide and Holocaust survivors, spoke about the need to send the right message by severing ties with the ADL.

Newton resident David Boyajian, whose letter to the Watertown Tab sparked the ADL controversy, said that the “ADL’s [genocide] acknowledgement was thinly disguised denial,” and that its “verbal gymnastics show bad faith.” He stressed that the ADL will not change its position without pressure from the towns, and asked that Newton sever its ties immediately.
Newton resident Sonya Merian, whose mother was on one of the earliest Newton Human Rights commissions, read a letter by the ANC of Eastern Massachusetts addressed to the NHRC members and Newton mayor David Cohen. “Foxman apologized to the Prime Minister of Turkey for having put his government ‘in a difficult position,’ expressing his ‘sorrow over what we have caused for the leadership and people of Turkey.’ No apology to the heirs of Armenian Genocide survivors has been issued to date,” she said.

Prof. Jack Nusan Porter, treasurer of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), stressed the importance of severing ties with the ADL until Foxman resigns or changes course. “Turkey cannot harm a single hair of a single Jew,” he said, referring to Foxman’s stated concern that supporting the Genocide Resolution would harm the Turkish-Jewish community. “Is Israel, with its army, afraid of Turkey?” he asked.

Newton resident Nancy Akanian said she was startled that the NPFH has an annual re-certification process for all participating towns, and said the ADL was hardly in a position to grade anyone on their human rights performance.

“The ADL lacks the moral leadership and courage and any program sponsored by the ADL cannot be accepted,” said Newton resident Michael Mensoyan.

Newton resident and Armenian Youth federation (AYF) member Nora Kaleshian said, “My family and I are deeply hurt [by ADL’s practices],” expressing hope that it promotes the Human Rights of all people.

Prominent human rights activist and author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, Judy Norsigian, also from Newton, noted that “the time is ripe to make this a national issue.” She underlined the position and authority of Newton to send a strong message to the ADL by severing ties.

Newton resident Bethel Charkoudian introduced her father, a genocide survivor and thanked the NHRC for their stance. “My father survived the genocide and came here because he knew people understood his suffering,” she said.

Associate professor of philosophy at Worcester State College Henry Theriault said that while people were used to the denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey, it was shocking to see a human rights organization engaging in the denial, adopting similar hate speech and lobbying against genocide recognition.

“There is no such thing as ‘degree of genocide,’” said Newton resident Salpi Sarafian. “The ADL has spoken in absolute clarity against Sudan, Bosnia and Afghanistan. They need to do the same regarding the Armenian genocide.”

In a poignant speech, activist Berge Jololian underscored the importance of realizing that recognizing the Armenian genocide is a moral issue and not a political one. “ADL was established in 1913, the Armenian genocide occured in 1915. ADL had 92 years to acknowledge this crime,” he said.

Activist Narini Badalian recounted her experience at a recent lecture by Foxman in New York. Badalian had confronted Foxman to say whether ADL’s position is consistent with that of a Human Rights organization. Foxman had responded, “It is up to you to decide.” Badalian urged, “It is time for us to decide.”

Activist Luder Sahagian made strong points about the failure of the ADL to “rigorously uphold settled history.” He said, “The ADL has yet to subscribe to the wisdom of the esteemed Rabbi Hillel, who many, many years ago advised, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor…That is the entire law. All the rest is commentary.’”

Visiting professor of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University Dikran Kaligian said, “The ADL has made itself complicit in [Turkey’s] multi-million dollar denial campaign.” When the ADL controversy first broke, he explained, the ADL’s first reaction was not to approach the Armenian community but to hire a leading PR company. “Foxman does not see this as a moral issue, but a PR problem,” Kaligian said, adding, “We need to take the necessary steps for them to get the message.”

In an emotional speech, activist Alik Arzoumanian responded to the numerous calls on the NHRC and on Armenians to wait until the November meeting before deciding to sever ties. “We have been waiting all our lives,” she said, and explained how offended she was by Foxman’s claim that a Genocide Resolution was “counter-productive.” Foxman considers “our struggle to recover our dignity” to be counterproductive, she added. “I don’t want to give National ADL one more day.”

Mayor Cohen

Newton mayor David Cohen spoke next, and said that “there is a tremendous amount of common ground here.” He called the ADL National’s failure to “make a forthright statement” recognizing the genocide and supporting the resolution as “an ongoing injustice.”

“The resolution that we have in the U.S. Congress is one of the best pieces of legislation that deserves passage,” he said, referring to H.R.106. “It is incumbent on the ADL” to support it, he added.

In the same boat?

ADL Regional Board members emphasized several times during the meeting that everyone in the room was “on the same boat,” though they went on to say that suspending ties with the NPFH and ADL was not the answer. Asked to comment near the end of the meeting, however, Student Advisory Council member Fisher said, “Hearing the voices of the Armenian community and my own Jewish conscience, I cannot be in the same boat with you.”

The NHRC voted unanimously to cease participation in the NPFH, pending the ADL’s unambiguous recognition of the Armenian genocide and support of HR106.

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