The Anti-Defamation League paid a heavy price of late for refusing to call Turkey’s slaughter of its Armenian population a genocide. First, its No Place for Hate program was booted from the heavily Armenian town of Watertown, Mass. Then the ADL fired its New England director Andrew Tarsy for criticizing his organization’s position. And the chorus of criticism within the Jewish community grew by the day.
Now the ADL has issued a mea culpa (sort of):
New York, NY, August 21, 2007 … Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement: In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians. We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide. I have consulted with my friend and mentor Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and other respected historians who acknowledge this consensus. I hope that Turkey will understand that it is Turkey’s friends who urge that nation to confront its past and work to reconcile with Armenians over this dark chapter in history. Having said that, we continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.
Is this a day late and a dollar short? Will it satisfy critics of Foxman and the ADL? Will Andrew Tarsy get his job back?
Either way, there’s egg on Foxman’s face. He fired Tarsy for taking a stance that he then turned around and largely embraced only days later. Indeed, the whole affair was handled pretty abominably by the ADL. The ADL says it has no position on the House bill to recognize the genocide, but any claim to neutrality on the matter is belied by the fact that Foxman has publicly criticized it and the ADL’s decision to forward the Turkish Jewish community’s objections on to Congress. Note that even in its latest statement recognizing the genocide, the ADL persists in saying that “a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion.” You can’t be neutral and be a critic at the same time.
It’s true that the Turkish government has placed the ADL and other Jewish groups in a difficult position, effectively blackmailing them, leading them to fear that their actions on this issue will have repercussions for Israel and the Turkish Jewish community. But couldn’t Foxman at least have found a way of conveying to the Armenian community that he feels their pain? We’re talking here about a people that was slaughtered en masse more than nine decades ago, and since then has fought an uphill battle for recognition of the crimes that were committed against them. But Foxman, in his public statements on the matter, seemed to display remarkably little sympathy for the Armenian community’s feelings. And when Armenians complained, he cast the ADL as the victim.
The upshot of the whole affair is that Turkey’s efforts to enlist the Jewish community in its bid to block congressional action ended up backfiring. By embroiling the ADL in this matter, they’ve only raised the issue’s profile, which can only benefit the Armenian community’s struggle for recognition and justice.
And now that the ADL has called a genocide a genocide, we will have to wait and see whether Turkey’s bite is as bad as its bark.