JEWISH GROUPS PRESSURE THE ADL
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
Aug 21 2007
Urge recognition of genocide
Local Jewish groups rushed yesterday to sign a letter urging the
Anti-Defamation League to acknowledge the massacre of Armenians by
Ottoman Turks as genocide, increasing pressure on the ADL after it
fired its New England director for endorsing the emotionally charged
Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations
Council of Greater Boston, e-mailed a letter yesterday to some 40
prominent Jewish leaders in Massachusetts, asking them to support
the ousted director and to recognize the genocide against Armenians.
"We must never forget the Armenian genocide and maintain our guard
against those who deny its occurrence," the letter said.
Within hours of sending the letter, Kaufman said that 11 groups had
signed and that more were expected to do so shortly.
"I have never gotten such unanimous support for any position by the
JCRC as I have in the last few days on this one," Kaufman said. "It
doesn’t matter where people are on the political spectrum — left,
right, middle — people are really standing behind this because it
strikes at the core of what it means to be a Jew and never again
means never again."
Signers of the letter include the Combined Jewish Philanthropies,
the Russian Community Association of Massachusetts, the Hillel Council
of New England, the Bureau of Jewish Education, and the David Project
Center for Jewish Leadership.
Kaufman said her group, which represents 41 Jewish organizations,
unanimously approved a resolution in 2005 calling the massacre an act
of genocide. "We just felt we needed to be on record," Kaufman said.
"We needed to be in solidarity and in support of the Armenian
The rift opened last week after the Town Council in Watertown,
home to 8,000 Armenian-Americans, voted unanimously to pull out of
an ADL program called No Place for Hate. The town was protesting the
ADL’s refusal to acknowledge as genocide the slaughter of 1.5 million
Armenians by Ottoman Turks starting in 1915 in what is today Turkey.
After the vote, the ADL’s New England director, Andrew H. Tarsy,
who had initially defended the ADL’s position, said the massacre was
genocide. Then he was fired by the national ADL.
The ADL’s national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said the ADL has no
official position on the genocide issue. But it does not support US
legislation that would affirm the genocide label.
In an open letter, the ADL has called the bill pending in Congress
"counterproductive" and said the organization, founded in 1913 to fight
anti-Semitism, worried what effect it would have on Jews in Turkey.
The controversy has since drawn in Jewish leaders across the region,
not all of whom are in agreement with the local ADL. Grand Rabbi Y.A.
Korff, a chaplain of the City of Boston, said the local chapter made a
mistake in breaking ranks with its national leaders, who he said are
better suited to assess "very sensitive international and diplomatic
nuances and ramifications."
"As with any organization, you can’t have different chapters
going their own way, and basically that undermines the national
organization," Korff said in an interview from Jerusalem. "In my view,
the essential issue is how does a national organization make these
decisions, and who is in the best position to make these decisions."
Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies,
said he supports Tarsy and the local ADL. "I think that Andy and the
board of the local ADL did the right thing and did what they thought
was right, and in this case, the local organization is a lot closer
to what needs to be done than the national is," Shrage said in an
interview from Jerusalem.
Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in West Roxbury,
said the local ADL was standing up in the tradition of its late former
leader, Leonard P. Zakim, for whom the bridge over the Charles River
is named. "I think the ADL national has made a huge mistake, and even
if they explain that there’s political and organizational issues, we
as a community ought to stand for the moral high ground," Penzner said.