Earlier this month, the Town Council in Watertown, MA, home one of the largest Armenian populations in the U.S., voted 8-0 to withdraw from the No Place for Hate program because one of its sponsors, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917.

“We cannot join with the ADL when they refuse to acknowledge the [Armenian] genocide,” Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney, who introduced the proclamation to withdraw from the program, told The Boston Globe. The town’s Armenian Americans wanted the ADL either to condemn the Armenian Genocide or end its sponsorship of the campaign.

Watertown was one of 67 MA communities that had adopted the program, and as others indicated they would reconsider their own participation, Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s National Director since 1987, held his nose and released this statement on August 21, 2007 in an effort to quell the controversy:

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.

Foxman’s belated acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide – though momentous – is decades late and falls very short.

Writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Evan R. Goldstein, a contributing editor at Moment magazine deconstructs Foxman’s non-acknowledgement acknowledgement, which he denounces as being “stunning on account of its total lack of integrity”:

First, note the disingenuous way Foxman lays the groundwork for his disgracefully belated admission of the obvious, by attributing his reversal to the risk of disunity within the Jewish community. What does the unity or disunity of the Jewish people have to do with distinguishing between historical fact and malicious fabrication?

Second, note how Foxman completely fails to grasp the fundamental significance of Morgenthau’s legacy (which he was nonetheless clearly intent on co-opting). Serving as America’s ambassador in Istanbul at the time of the genocide, Morgenthau alerted his superiors in Washington that the ongoing persecution of Armenians was “assuming unprecedented proportions,” ultimately characterizing Turkish aggression as an “effort to exterminate a whole race.” (The word “genocide” was not coined until 1944.) And although the American response to Morgenthau’s cables was dreadfully feeble, his actions testify to the ethical imperative of bearing witness and acknowledging inconvenient truths. In contrast, Foxman’s statement of contrition diminishes the importance of the truth.

Third, note the weasel words “consequences” and “tantamount” – why not just say it was genocide?

The Stiletto would like to add that Foxman’s fears over the safety of the Jewish community in Turkey are baseless, considering that The Wall Street Journal, for one, repeatedly assures us that Turkey is a secular, pluralistic democracy (third item). Therefore acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and supporting H Res 106 would not imperil Turkish Jews in any way.

Asked And Answered

Unfortunately, Goldstein’s rhetorical question, “why not just say it was genocide?” was answered within days of Foxman’s press release.

The Turkish government condemned the Anti-Defamation League’s decision to call the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide, reports The Boston Globe:

“We consider the statement of the ADL as an injustice to the unique character of the Holocaust, as well as to the memories of its victims,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We expect it to be rectified.”

Burak Akcapar, first counselor of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Turkey has registered its concerns with Israel, the United States, and “friends everywhere.”

Turkey pulled out all the stops in pressuring its “friends everywhere.”

Haaretz, quotes Foreign Ministry sources as describing a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Pinhas Avivi, as “shrill,” and that “Gul told the Israeli ambassador that ‘Turkey knows Israel was not responsible for the Anti-Defamation League’s announcement, but is disappointed because Israel could have done something to prevent it.’”

Prime minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also called Israel’s president Shimon Peres and asked him to lean on Foxman and other Jewish organizations to ensure they keep toeing the genocide-denial line, reports Turkish paper Today’s Zaman:

ErdoÄŸan stressed the “futility” of the ADL decision to call the events genocide in the conversation and Peres responded by saying that Israel’s well-known position on the issue of genocide claims has not changed. The Israeli prime minister also said Israel attached great importance to relations with Turkey and promised to “advocate Turkey’s position on the issue in the US.”

Israel wanted to put out the diplomatic fire as quickly as possible, reports Haaretz:

Israel is concerned that the matter may lead to a genuine diplomatic crisis between the two countries, and it has sent quiet signals to American Jewish organizations in an effort to lower the tone. The Foreign Ministry is concerned that the strategic relationship between the two countries could be harmed and that the Jewish community in Turkey could be affected.

Peres – himself an Armenian Genocide denier – wasted no time calling Foxman over the imbroglio. After speaking with Peres, Foxman dashed off a reassuring letter to ErdoÄŸan that “expressed regret over debates centered on its recent decision to recognize Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire,” according to Today’s Zaman. The letter also reportedly stated that the ADL “has never desired to put the Turkish people and their leaders into a difficult situation” and expressed “deep regret over what the Turkish people had to go through in the past few days” since the organization agreed to reverse a long-standing policy and recognize the genocide.

The Turkish Daily News adds that the letter suggested the ADL would not back away from its opposition to H Res 106: “The force and passion of the debate today leaves us more convinced than ever that this issue does not belong in a forum such as the United States Congress.”

Which guarantees that Armenians and Jews who have been at odds with Foxman over the Armenian Genocide are not likely to be placated by his tepid – and wavering – concession that the Ottoman Turks had committed genocide, and will continue to press him to abandon his untenable opposition to H Res 106.

Jewish Leaders Must Stop Enabling Armenian Genocide Denial

The controversy over the No Place For Hate program “is shining a spotlight on the American Jewish community’s refusal to get behind a congressional bill acknowledging the Armenian genocide,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA):

“Here in Watertown, you can’t ignore the Armenian genocide,” said Ruth Thomasian, the sole Armenian member of Watertown’s “No Place for Hate” planning committee, which operates independently of ADL. “You can’t call it ‛alleged’ or ‛supposed’ or ‛research says.’ Genocide happened.”

Writing in the Forward, Leonard Fein notes:

Unlike the many nations that have established commissions of truth and reconciliation, that have looked fearlessly into their own past crimes against humanity (most notably, Germany itself), Turkey hires K Street lobbyists to persuade the American public and the U.S. Congress that its hands are clean, its heart is pure. …

It is doubtful that many people are persuaded by the Turks and their lobbyists. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recognizes the Armenian genocide, as does the Reform Jewish movement, as, one assumes, do most Jewish leaders, at least privately – perhaps even the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and B’nai B’rith International. Yet the leaders of these organizations have steadfastly refused to endorse a bill currently before Congress that would formally acknowledge the fact of the Armenian genocide.

Some believe the reticence on the part of the ADL and other Jewish organizations to call a genocide a genocide is misguided Zionism. In an interview with the Forward, a member of ADL’s national executive committee speaking on condition of anonymity framed the issue in these terms: “Are we an organization of principle? Are we an organization that will stand up for what’s right and wrong? Or are our principles put through some kind of filter that involves Israel’s self-interest? There is that subtext here.”

Foxman, says the Forward, is “faced with the fight of his professional life … forced into a rare and reluctant retreat by the unlikeliest of adversaries: an ethnic minority charging one of the world’s most famous Holocaust survivors with suppressing recognition of a genocide.” It took a “a potential mutiny from fellow Jews” to get him to reverse himself on the Armenian Genocide, and he remains under intense criticism for his intransigence over H Res 106 – proposed by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and co-sponsored by 29 out 43 Jewish members of Congress.

A Generational Divide

Young Jews, in particular, are leading the charge against Foxman. Jewcy Media, which describes itself as “a leading Internet content, commerce, and new media company for progressive free-thinkers,” may have been the first to urge the ADL to “Fire Foxman” in this July 8, 2007 article by Joey Kurtzman:

Abdullah Gul needed a favor. It was February 5 of this year, and the Turkish foreign minister was fighting a push in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize the Turkish murder of over one million Armenians during World War I. In past years the House had placated Turkey by dropping similar resolutions. But now, with the American-Turkish alliance weakened by the Iraq war, the resolution had found renewed support. Gul summoned representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and several other Jewish-American organizations to his room at the Willard Hotel in Washington. There he asked them, in essence, to perpetuate Turkey’s denial of genocide.

Abraham Foxman’s ADL acquiesced, and in so doing, performed the pièce de résistance of Foxman’s highly effective, if unintentional, decades-long campaign to demoralize Jewish America and send young Jews scurrying for the communal exit doors. The ADL chief is a danger to the future of the community, and it is a scandal that he remains at the head of a major Jewish organization. Foxman must go. And the organization he has done so much to shape must either change or go with him. …

“I don’t think congressional action will help reconcile the issue. The resolution takes a position; it comes to a judgment,” said Foxman in a statement issued to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The Turks and Armenians need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn’t be the arbiter of that history, nor should the U.S. Congress.”

Foxman‘s statement is in every way that matters equivalent to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that he takes no position on the historicity of the Jewish Holocaust, but only hopes to see the matter resolved by dispassionate study. Throughout the Congressional saga surrounding the resolutions, virtually no one other than Turkish lobbyists had explained their opposition by challenging the nearly undisputed consensus among historians that a genocide did indeed take place.

It is a scandal of unprecedented proportion when one of the most prominent figures in our community, a man who claims to speak on our behalf, publicly challenges the historicity of another community’s genocide. Foxman’s ADL no longer represents the interests of the Jewish community. In fact, it seems the only interests it represents are its own. …

In an interview with JTA following this piece, Kurtzman reiterated:

Jewish organizations should be “visible and vocal in standing with the Armenian community.”

“Unless Jewish Americans are comfortable for others to remain similarly agnostic about whether the Holocaust took place, we ought to be every bit as furious with Foxman as are Armenian Americans,” he said. “Foxman ought to issue a public retraction and an apology to the Armenian community, and also to the Jewish community. Barring that, he should be fired.”

Neither history nor time is on the side of Armenian Genocide deniers. This is no longer just “an Armenian issue.” The Boston Globe notes there is “a growing antigenocide constituency in the United States,” adding:

The feeling is evident in the US House of Representatives, where 227 members, a majority, are cosponsoring a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide. It is the largest number of cosponsors the resolution has had in recent years. And perhaps more importantly, with Democrats in power Armenian-Americans are optimistic the resolution will get to the floor for a vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has supported the resolution in the past.

But a vote is hardly a guarantee. Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who introduced the resolution, said the Turkish efforts to lobby against the measure are “beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

And the antigenocide consituency is not just in the U.S. Take, for example, the blog Genats-Lehayim (“to life” in Armenian and Hebrew), which is “devoted to Armenian-Jewish cooperation in the diasporas, Armenia, and Israel.”

The future belongs to Armenians and Jews who work together to ensure that all crimes against humanity are condemned, and no crime against humanity is forgotten.

Notes: This is the third in a series, “Is Armenian Genocide Denial Good For The Jews?” To read previous installments in the series click here and here (third item).

If you want to send a message to the ADL to stop aiding and abetting Turkey’s Armenian Genocide denial, Jewcy Media has started an online petition calling on Foxman to:

  1. Acknowledge the Armenian Genocide
  2. Apologize to the Armenian-American community
  3. Apologize to the Jewish community, for humiliating us before our fellow-citizens

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Jewcy staff collectively argues that:

The ADL has made a monster of itself by denying a genocide. It has made the entire Jewish community look morally incompetent for allowing ourselves to be represented by someone who engages in Holocaust denial. And it has earned the justified fury of the Armenian-American community, which bears witness to the mass-murder of its forebears, and refuses to see that memory trampled upon.

Several weeks ago, it might have been enough for Abe Foxman to give up encouraging others to share his agnosticism about the Armenian Genocide. But the controversy has gained momentum, and now it’s too late for him to just stop talking.

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