Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Who says history belongs to the past?: Armenian genocide, the ADL, and Watertown, Mass.

I have been a bit slow in posting about a controversy that is roiling Watertown Mass. and parts beyond. Seems that ADL wanted to bring its highly praised program "No Room for Hate" to Watertown. [For more background see the JTA article by Ben Harris.]

Watertown is also the home to a very large Armenian population and they are understandably upset -- to put it mildly -- about the Congress' failure to pass a bill which recognizes the Armenian genocide.

Not surprisingly, Turkey is vehemently opposed to this resolution. And, as I have discussed before, some of the leading American Jewish organizations are not supporting it either. They seem to be echoing the Turkish argument that this is a matter for the historians not the politicians.

It hurts to see the Jewish organizations take this stance. My guess -- and it's really more than a guess -- that the Turks have made it quite clear that if they value Turkey's relationship with Israel and the well being of the Turkish Jewish community they should not support the bill. There is also growing concern in the Jewish community that, as Turkey becomes more overtly Muslim, Turkish Jews and the relationship with Israel will suffer. So many folks are on edge.]

[I had a small encounter of this nature a couple of years ago in Australia when I was there for Limmud. I was scheduled to participate in a panel on genocide denial. The other presenter was Professor Ronald Grigor Suny of the University of Chicago. He was to present on Armenian genocide denial. Both the Limmud organizers and the Armenian community were excited about this event. The Turkish consulate in Sydney tried to quietly shut the program down with some heavy handed insinuations to the organizers about "Turkey's support of Israel" and questions such as, "has Israel's policy towards Turkey changed?" The Limmud organizers did not bend.]

I regret the fact that Watertown will not bring the ADL program but I understand their decision. Some people in the Jewish community have argued that the program is so valuable bring it anyway. Separate the two issues.

Yet in the Jewish community there have been those who have refused to do this when it concerns antisemitism. Ironically, it was the ADL which turned down an alliance with Russell Simmons, who has spoken out forcefully against antisemitism, because of his support of Louis Farrakhan, an avowed antisemite.

Regarding the Armenian genocide, in a less than fortuitous choice of phrasing, Abe Foxman, National Director of the ADL, told the JTA:
"This is not an issue where we take a position one way or the other. This is an issue that needs to be resolved by the parties, not by us. We are neither historians nor arbiters."
When asked by the JTA to comment on the Armenian genocide, I said:
"It's not a matter of debate. There is an overwhelming consensus among historians that work in this area that there is no question that this is a genocide. You can't deny this history."
The issue has been further complicated by the recent firing of the ADL Boston office director for his criticism of the ADL national office for its position on the Armenian genocide. He called the stance of the national office "morally indefensible."

I hope the ADL leadership can sit down with the Armenian community and listen to them on this issue. A good start would be to read this week's op-ed by Alan Dershowitz and Massachusetts State Representative Ruth Kaprielian.

If you want to feel the Armenian community's reaction just change "Armenian genocide" to "Holocaust" in the some of the statements which have been made. We would have been -- and rightfully so -- livid.

Can we expect anything else from the Armenians?

Of course, as Jews and Armenians go at each other the Turks sit by and watch [after having played their hand behind the scene.]

What a tragedy.


Hume's Ghost said...

Doesn't Turkey have something in their penal code that makes it illegal to state that there was an Aremenian genocide?

I think a US Ambassador lost his position to Turkey because he stated the truth that the genocide took place.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Actually it was our Ambassador to Armenia who lost his job. I met him this summer. He is quite a man. A hero in my book. See http://lipstadt.blogspot.com/2007/07/from-sarajevo-on-meeting-real-hero-who.html