ADL local leader fired on Armenian issue
Genocide question sparked bitter debate
Andrew H. Tarsy’s firing sparked a backlash.
By Keith O’Brien, Globe Staff | August 18, 2007
The national Anti-Defamation League fired its New England regional
director yesterday, one day after he broke ranks with national ADL
leadership and said the human rights organization should acknowledge
the Armenian genocide that began in 1915.
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The firing of Andrew H. Tarsy, who had served as regional director for
about two years and as civil rights counsel for about five years
before that, prompted an immediate backlash among prominent local
Jewish leaders against the ADL’s national leadership and its national
director, Abraham H. Foxman.
"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."
Tarsy, 38, said he had been struggling with the national position for
weeks and finally told Foxman in a phone conversation Thursday that he
found the ADL’s stance "morally indefensible."
The regional board’s executive committee backed Tarsy and, according to
a source fa miliar with the discussion, even went a step further,
resolving to support legislation now pending before Congress to
acknowledge the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during the World War I
era as genocide.
The national office’s three-page response — which it provided
yesterday to the Globe — did not mention the local office’s intent to
support the legislation. But it made clear just how far apart the two
sides were on an issue with local, national, and international
The letter, signed by Foxman and Glen S. Lewy, the ADL’s national
chairman, said "we have acknowledged the massacres of Armenians at the
hands of the Ottoman Empire and called on Turkey to do more to confront
its past and reconcile with Armenia. We will continue to press Turkey,
publicly and privately . . ." But the letter also makes clear that the
national ADL feels the safety of Israel, which considers Turkey a rare
Muslim ally, is paramount.
The national ADL leaders also said employees who do not agree with the
ADL’s position should not differ pubicly, but should resign. "No
organization can or should tolerate such an act of open defiance," the
Asked how they would resolve the difference of opinion, both local and
national leaders said they did not know.
"They’ve taken a position," Foxman said in an interview. "We’ve taken a
position. I hope they will read our position and hopefully we’ll have
Tarsy’s firing — and the national office’s rebuke of the local
office’s independence — marked the latest twist in a debate that began
weeks ago in Watertown, home to more than 8,000 Armenian-Americans.
Residents there became angry when they learned that the ADL was the
sponsor of the town’s anti-bigotry program "No Place For Hate" and, on
Tuesday this week, the Watertown Town Council voted unanimously to pull
out of the program.
At issue was not the program itself, but rather a tangle of
international politics dating back more than 90 years. From 1915 to
1923, Ottoman Turks massacred as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what
is now modern-day Turkey. Armenians, historians, and some European
nations have recognized the killings as genocide. But the Turkish
government has refused to accept the genocide label and the national
ADL refuses to use it as well.
In a 438-word open letter slated to appear in advertisements inside
local newspapers beginning next week, the ADL does not use the word
genocide. Officially, Foxman reiterated yesterday, the ADL has no
position on the genocide issue. But it does not support the legislation
in Congress. In the open letter yesterday, the ADL called it
"counterproductive" and the organization, founded in 1913 to fight
anti-Semitism, worried what effect passing the legislation would have
on Jews living in Turkey.
Critics say this position is hypocritical. Foxman "should understand
that the truth of any genocide is not conditional upon political
relationships," said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian
National Committee of America in Washington, D.C. Rather, he said, it
should be dictated by "truth" and "history."
As recently as Tuesday night, however, Tarsy defended the ADL’s
position before a hostile crowd at the Watertown Town Council meeting.
In explaining why he did it, Tarsy said yesterday that he was doing the
best he could to explain the ADL policy while struggling at the same
time to change the policy internally. Neither side would back down and
he was fired.
"I have been in conflict over this issue for several weeks," Tarsy
said. "I regret at this point any characterization of the genocide that
I made publicly other than to call it a genocide. I think that kind of
candor about history is absolutely fundamental."
Both the Jewish and Armenian-American communities rushed to Tarsy’s
defense yesterday in the wake of his firing and applauded him for
taking the stand that ultimately cost him his job.
"I’m devastated to hear the news," said Ronne Friedman, senior rabbi at
Temple Israel, the largest synagogue in Boston. "I think he’s really a
quality professional and a wonderful person of conscience. I think it’s
an inexcusable behavior on the part of the national office."
Grossman said Tarsy provided "moral leadership" and surely would have
invigorated a new generation of ADL members in New England if he had
been given the chance. Hamparian said it spoke poorly of the ADL’s
national leadership that Tarsy "was not rewarded, but fired for
speaking the truth." And James Rudolph, the ADL’s regional board
chairman and partner at a Boston law firm, said he would miss working
"I’m disappointed," Rudolph said. "He was an extraordinary leader and
I’m sure that a lot of people affiliated with the board and affiliated
with the ADL share my disappointment."
Rudolph, like Foxman, said he is hoping to have further conversations
with the national office in the days ahead regarding the differences
But they will be doing it without Tarsy, who said that he has no idea
what he will do next.
"I have the greatest respect for the ADL and for its staff and
leadership," Tarsy said, referring to the people he has worked with in
the regional office over the years. "And I want very badly to see the
ADL do what’s right on this issue."
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress