Passport: When genocide becomes a political football

When genocide becomes a political football

T ue, 08/21/2007 – 10:22am.

Alan Wolfe weighs in < 35807>
the debate raging in Boston over the Anti-Defamation League’s stance on
whether there was, in fact, an Armenian genocide in Turkey during WWI. When
the ADL’s New England regional director recently said, yes, there was
genocide, he was summarily
fired< l/articles/2007/08/21/jewish_groups_pressure_the_a dl/>.
The national ADL holds no position official on the genocide or non-genocide
itself, but the organization all but opposes a pending Congressional
resolution that would label the deaths of some 1.5 million ethnic Armenians
a genocide. Writes Wolfe:

To say that the ADL’s position is incomprehensible to most Bostonians,
including many of its most prominent Jews, is an understatement. Wild
speculation exists about its reasons, ranging from Turkey’s support for
Israel to a desire not to allow the term genocide to become overused.

If it’s the latter, then how does one explain the ADL’s position on
Darfur< 016_00.htm>,
which is probably an even murkier case for genocide than was the Armenian
massacre? More likely, the ADL is being perfectly transparent about its
motives, as expressed in its open
letter< sp>on the subject:

We believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive
to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no
position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106. The
Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major
American Jewish organizations its concerns about the impact of Congressional
action on them, and we cannot ignore those concerns. We are also keenly
aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States
and a staunch friend of Israel, and that in the struggle between Islamic
extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the

Michael Crowley of the *New Republic *interprets this to
mean< D135885>that "the ADL, along
with other leading Jewish-American groups, apparently
considers friendly relations between Israel and Turkey … more important
than the underlying historical question."

To which I would reply: The ADL is a political player, not some neutral
arbiter of historical disputes. As much as we might like to see the legal
term "genocide" be rigorously applied at all times, the real world simply
doesn’t work that way. And on the merits, I would say that the national ADL
is justified in pointing out that such a resolution would have
consequences – failing to achieve concrete results, needlessly provoking
Turkey at a fragile time in its politics, and yes, risking blowback for
Turkey’s Jewish community. Whether the ADL should be in the business of
protecting Israel’s strategic allies from criticism is another question,
Blake Hounshell <;

( filed under:History < 4> |North
America < > )
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