For The Independent Monitor
Dubbed by its critics as the “apartheid defense league” for its staunch support of Israel’s bigoted policies in Occupied Palestine, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) bowed to heavy criticism from Armenian-Americans and some Jewish groups. ADL Chairman Abe Foxman "revisited” the organization's stance on Tuesday, August 21, announcing a new policy recognizing the 1915-1918 Turkish massacres of Armenians as “genocide.”
“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," said a statement from the group released Tuesday. However, the ADL continues to oppose passing legislation on recognizing the genocide.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) remained "deeply troubled... that elements of [ADL’s] national leadership seek to prevent the United States from taking this very same principled step by adopting the Armenian Genocide Resolution currently before Congress," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
The controversy expanded to an international level as soon as the ADL revisited its official stance.
According to Foreign Ministry sources in Jerusalem, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul expressed Ankara's “anger and disappointment” over the matter. Sources said that Gul told the Israeli ambassador, “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.” Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Pinhas Avivi replied that Jerusalem was not involved in the ADL's decision and that "there is no change in Israel's position. We are not taking sides, and believe that the parties must hold a dialogue to clarify and investigate the matter and determine what really happened."
Israel is concerned that the matter may lead to a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, and it has sent signals to American Jewish organizations in an effort to lower the tone.
Earlier this month, the ADL fired Andrew Tarsy, head of its New England office, for supporting a congressional resolution recognizing the massacres of Armenians by Turkey as genocide.
The ADL has been under fire since the Armenian community in Watertown, Mass., began agitating to have the town withdraw its participation in an “anti-bigotry” program the ADL sponsors. The Town Council later unanimously voted to end its relationship with No Place for Hate. Tarsy initially defended the ADL while arguing that the matter should be left to historians before reversing himself when he announced his strong disagreement with ADL’s national position.
For decades, Armenians have fought to get the Turkish government and other world leaders to recognize the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide. The refusal of the ADL to support the Armenians, especially as they lobby Congress to recognize the genocide, has fueled the local war of words.
Foxman countered that it would be "bigoted" to dismantle a program focused on fighting hatred simply because the ADL does not share the Armenians' point of view. And Foxman maintained his position that the ADL does not have a role in the long-standing dispute between the Armenians and the Turks. "We're not party to this, and I don't understand why we need to be made party," Foxman said.
But Armenian-Americans say that is a hypocritical answer coming from an organization that claims to stand up for human rights around the globe. They believe that Israel's ties to Turkey have dictated the ADL's point of view. This incident is not the ADL’s first controversial encounter with an ethnic community.
In 1999, the ADL agreed to pay $25,000 to a community relations fund and said it would not spy on other organizations as part of a settlement with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and other groups. The settlement resolved a class-action lawsuit filed in 1993 that accused the ADL of spying on Arab-American, pro-Palestinian and anti-Apartheid groups and individuals.
In 2000, an ADL representative testified before Congress in support of the use of secret evidence against Muslims and Arabs.
In April of 2001, a federal judge upheld a jury’s findings that the ADL defamed a Colorado couple by publicly accusing them of being anti-Semitic. According to U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham, evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s conclusion that the ADL "acted recklessly in its efforts to publicize what it perceived to be anti-Semitic conduct."