Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anti-Defamation League in Hot Water over Armenian Genocide

A Jewcy Banner in a petition that calls on the ADL to recognize the Armenian Genocide

UPDATE: There have been some very interesting new developments, on which I have posted over on Genats-Lehayim. First, the ADL published an "open letter" maintaining their previous position. Today, Foxman finally retracted.

The municipal council of Watertown, Massachusetts, which together with Glendale, California is one of the major Armenian centers in the U.S., last Tuesday voted unanimously to pull out of the "No Place for Hate" tolerance-education program. The reason? The program is funded by the Anti-Defamation League, whose national board, the council alleges, has not been forthright in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Among other developments, the controversy has led to the firing of the New England Regional Director of the ADL, Andrew Tarsy, after he defied the national leadership of the organization and called on it to refer to the killing of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Now, some people are hoping that the scandal will lead to the "implosion" of the Anti-Defamation League and the sacking of its controversial leader, Abe Foxman.

One of the people who has been leading the campaign against the ADL is Joey Kurtzman over at Jewcy, who in a July post, Fire Foxman, "broke the news" of a February 2007 meeting between Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul and American-Jewish organizations, at which the latter allegedly agreed to oppose a House bill that would recognize the Armenian Genocide. For some thoughts on this meeting, see my post, "Recognizing the Armenian Genocide: Another Round."

I have very little sympathy for some of Kurtzman's other aims, which apparently include "the end of the Jewish people." Unlike Kurtzman, I hardly think the ADL is redundant. And while I can imagine how gratifying it is for a spunky, young Heeb to bash someone like Abe Foxman, I wish Kurtzman could have spared us the self-righteous universalist moralizing. Furthermore, Kurtzman's polemics against the ADL's anti-Mel Gibson campaign are a scandal, as is his pooh-pooing of antisemitism.

Nevertheless, I say mabrouk to the man for his spirited coverage of the Watertown-ADL controversy. To me, the whole episode illustrates something that I have repeated like a broken record on this blog: the American Jewish grassroots overwhelmingly support U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It's too bad that an excellent program, the ADL's "No Place for Hate," ended up being cut to send a message.

It is clear that there is a split between the grassroots and local leaders on one hand and the diplomatic activity of the larger organizations on the other. The directors are thinking geopolitics. When the Turkish foreign minister invites them to make a pitch for action against an Armenian Genocide resolution by Congress, they are not going to tell him "no" to his face, especially when he joins his plea to the status of the Jewish community in Turkey and to Turkish-Israeli as well as Turkish-American relations. The foreign policy departments of the premier American Jewish diplomatic organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, are focused on the Middle East today; they are doing everything they can to keep Turkey on America's side, and at least somewhat close to Israel.

The question is whether historical truth, moral integrity, and diaspora Armenians should all suffer for the pursuit of these interests. I say pursuit because I am not convinced that being "neutral" on the Genocide issue - i.e., basically supporting Turkey's denialist status quo - is really furthering concrete interests on the ground. I have talked off-the-record to someone in one of the major foreign-policy oriented Jewish organizations in the U.S. , who supports the traditional line toward Turkey (on Genocide recognition and other issues), and I was surprised by the lack of flexibility and what seems to me unawareness of the dynamic situation we are facing in the region. It reminded me a little bit of Israel's reluctance to seize opportunities in Iraqi Kurdistan, on which Zvi Bar'el had the following to say in Ha'aretz recently:
Israel now fears that renewing the ties with the Kurds will harm its strategic relations with Turkey, which, as a matter of fact, is doing very good business with Kurdistan: Hundreds of Turkish commercial firms have investments there.

Nor does Israel want to clash with American interests. Washington views the Kurds' ambitions for a federation as an effort to undermine Iraqi unity - Washington's great goal. This is the same Washington that doesn't yet know who is a friend and who an enemy in Iraq, but is conveniently ignoring the Kurds and even their request for an American military base to be built in Kurdistan.
Note: this is an expanded version of my post on Genats-Lehayim.


yaman said...

Cecilie from JVP had another worthwhile conclusion:

"It’s an appalling betrayal of their mission, a shameful manipulation of the charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism, and a shame to many of us who know full well what has happened to Palestinians is unconscionable but who support the stated goals of the ADL.

The ADL should decide to either be an Israel advocacy organization, or a pro-tolerance and anti-bigotry organization, but it has proven time and time again that it is impossible for it to be both.

Amos said...

I don't buy this claim for a minute.

I'm pretty sick of the people who are always crying about being accused of antisemitism. It's gotten so bad that you can't call things by their real name anymore. I hope there's a backlash against these crybabies.

This canard about Jewish organizations manipulating charges of bigotry is getting really boring.

ariel said...

I don't know which crybabies you're referring to, Amos, but I'm really not sure what you find objectionable in the above-quoted passage. It seems to me that for an organization like the ADL to deny a clear case of genocide is outrageous, whatever the supposed "geopolitical" matters at stake. I just don't see how you can stand against racism and ethnic chauvinism on moral grounds and then choose to ignore the Armenian genocide because it is politically inconvenient to do otherwise.

Jeha said...

I do not see the reason for the controversy in the first place; what the Turks did to the Armenians was clearly a genocide.

If geopolitics was involved in this, it would be a source of concern, not only because of the impression of "deux poids, deux mesures", but mostly because it would suggest that the anti-defamation league is not independent enough.

Amos said...

I assume this is not Ariel R.

I was talking about the crybabies who constantly whine about being accused of antisemitism. The kind of people who will accuse you of calling them antisemites before you open your mouth to respond to whatever inane "anti-Zionist" argument they have been preaching at you.

If you read my post above and my many other posts about Armenian Genocide recognition - which I fully support - it should be obvious to you that I think what Foxman said and what the ADL has done here is despicable. Maybe I should have been more explicit about this, but I was trying to explain rather than pontificate - hence my references to geopolitical matters, which you put in quotation marks for some reason or other.

In any case, what I disagreed with was the claim that Jewish organizations have to choose between Israel advocacy and pro-tolerance. The quotation in Yaman's comment refers not to the Armenian Genocide but to the Palestinians. What exactly was Cecilie trying to imply? That the ADL cannot faithfully fight bigotry without forswearing its support for Israel?

Amos said...


Geopolitics most certainly is involved in this. But when it comes to the Armenian Genocide, the ADL unfortunately is not the only one who, by your criteria, would be giving the impression of "deux poids, deux mesures" and of not being independent enough.

As self-evident as the matter is to you and me, the U.S. government, among many others, also has not recognized this tragedy as genocide. You might argue that the ADL, as a non-governmental organization has different obligations than a state, and that we should therefore be harsher with them than with the American government. But in the case of the U.S., we have a state that has recognized as genocide other historical tragedies, and whose various organs and values imply a commitment to preventing genocide.

Donald Bloxham's excellent book on the Armenian Genocide devotes an entire chapter to the "geopolitics of memory," which traces the shameful history of this tragedy's denial from WWI unto the present. I think it would be naive to think that NGOs are immune from these kinds of pressures.

ariel said...

This is Ariel R. And for the record, what is at issue here is not your personal views on recognition of the Armenian genocide, which I agree you have been clear and consistent on.

Cecilie has a point, however, whether referring to the Palestinians or the Armenians. In the latter case, things are perfectly clear, and whatever the pressures on the ADL, its position should also be clear. In the former, a good deal more difficult. But given that ethnic prejudice of some kind or another has often been very much at the heart of certain Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, from the petty to the more serious, we should not be surprised if anti-bigotry and pro-Israel aims are often in contradiction. As you know, I don't think Israeli government actions should be subjected to any more searching a microscope than is applied to other governments. After all, governments deal first and foremost in politics and power, and with morals and ethics only as a secondary consideration. But the ADL is a different matter. If it's going to preach against hate, it has an obligation to be consistent. And let me add that it is entirely unnecessary for the ADL to actively advocate against US recognition of the genocide. That does indeed seem like Israel advocacy at the expense of anti-bigotry. Doing otherwise would hardly necessitate forswearing Israel.

About the crybabies, how does that characterization apply to Cecilie or the JVP?

Amos said...

Of course. The ADL should be pressured to make its position on genocide recognition clear. Furthermore, lending support to efforts aimed at blocking genocide recognition is disgraceful.

My crybabies comment was a knee-jerk response to the allegation that the ADL had engaged in "shameful manipulation of the charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism."

When I made this comment, I was thinking primarily of people you know well from this blog - individuals such as ZR, for example, who consistently accused me of playing the "antisemite card" to delegitimize my criticism of his position.

As for the issue of compatibility, I was making a more general claim, which I am definitely not prepared to concede: it is possible to be both an Israel advocacy and a "pro-tolerance and anti-bigotry" organization. The ADL does not need to decide to be either or. It can be true to both. Hopefully it will be again soon.

What I reject above all is the attempt by some critics of Israel to stifle any invocation of the Shoah or the history of antisemitism by those defending the country against them. Sometimes, it just so happens that this history is relevant. Furthermore, I don't see why these critics should be allowed to make their comparisons (between Israel and the Nazi regime), while other, far more legitimate equations (such as Islamist antisemitism with its genocidal European ancestor) are deemed "manipulation of antisemitism."

ariel said...

I agree with you entirely about the Shoah's continuing historical relevance and how irritating it is to try to have a conversation with anyone like ZR. But the Cecilie comment strikes me as being a good distance away from that. You're probably right that she poses the ADL's dilemma too starkly, but I still think it was a point worth making.

Anonymous said...

It Is Hazbani.
The bad thing is that for some reason the Jewish leaders (if there is such a thing ) including first and foremost these of Israele some how became super stupid. The best thing for Israel and the Jewish community is for the ADL to recognize the Armenian Genocide yesterday. Mostly for moral reasons. As for real politics the ADL does not represent Israel and therefore any thing that the ADL does should not affect Israel Turky relations more than the rabid anti Israeli position taken by some members of the rulling Turkish party.
Because some of our friends in the ME are jumping on the band weagon. Turkish Empire 1917. Many of the members of the rulling Arab muslim familes of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine served as officers in the Turkish army at that time and some were very actively involved with the deportations and the killings. Much of the killing was done by Chechens and other minorities. Armenian girls and women were sold also in Syria and Iraq. Musa Dag is now called Ras Hanzir it is on the south east corner of Iskenderun bay, after the extrmination [ ethnic cleaning ] of the Armenians there and evacuation to Alexandria of few it was settled by Arabs. Not far from the homeland of the present ruller of Syria. The only forces that realy saved the Armenians were the evil Imperialistic England and France, the position of the USA visa vis Turky was complex also on the Armenian Issue, Russia also helped a little but was in a mess of its own. Up to now not one Arab-Muslim political entity or state have put them selves clearly on the side of the Armenians and I do not think that this will happen, if only because of the Azars. Why do the USA Jews have to get themselves involved in such lose lose situation is a good question.

Redel said...

I think Ariel makes a good point there, I agree that they should make the choice to be either a pro-tolerance organisation or pro-israel organisation as far a purpose. I am not suggesting that they cannot be both pro-israel and pro-tolerance, but that only one should be their defining quality and the other should be a result.

I don't see these purposes as contradictory or even orthogonal, but they are not the same. They can be a pro-israel organisation which is pro-tolerance or a pro-tolerance organisation which is pro-israel.

My interpretation of your post suggests exactly that, here is a case when the two purposes may lead to different actions, without israel doing anything wrong. The pro-tolerance route does not in any way attack israel, it just isn't diplomatically convenient for israel.

Amos said...

Redel and Ariel,

That makes sense to me as well. They should focus on the core of their mission - fighting antisemitism and other racism. There are enough organizations out there doing Israel advocacy.

I think it was very poor diplomacy in the first place to allow the Turks to link an Armenian Genocide resolution in the U.S. house to Israeli-Turkish relations.


There is one Arab state that explicitly recognizes the Armenian Genocide - Lebanon.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile Abe Foxman and the national ADL have decided to take the low road. Here is the text of a paid message to appear in the Boston Globe and other media this week:

Do Foxman and Co. not realize the inconsistency in stating that the Turkish Jewish community is worried about the impact on it of 'Congressional action' on the Armenian Genocide and in the same paragraph stating that Turkey is a staunch friend of the U.S. and Israel. What kind of friend would threaten its own citizens over actions taken by the elected officials of another country?

Of course the word 'genocide' is avoided.

This message from the ADL lays bare all that is wrong its position on this issue. Foxman has to go.


Amos said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, R. I've put a post about this over on Genats-Lehayim.

Of course I agree with you.

I have to say though that I'm surprised at your consternation over the omission of the word "genocide." Did you really expect the ADL to put this in their ad?

Anonymous said...

Sadly this goes beyond the ADL. Man of our lobbying groups have been at the forefront of the Armenian genocide denial. If you recall this put Wiesel in a bad position a few years ago.

Lemkin coined the phrase genocide based on the Armenian genocide.

An alarming number of our top "lobby"leaders here and some very very stupid people in Israel have truly put us in a bad position.

R said...

This story is changing daily. Today the ADL made a press release stating that after consultations with Elie Wiesel and other respected historians, Foxman now accepts the consensus that this was "tantamount to a genocide".

On the one hand this is a positive development. On the other hand the way this unfolded is bittersweet.

Amos said...


I just posted on this over on Genats actually. I think this is excellent news.

Anonymous 9:56 pm - I have to say that I am suspicious of the authenticity of your comment. Also, I think it's an unwarranted exaggeration to say that "our" (Jewish?) lobby groups have been at the FOREFRONT of the denial of the Armenian Genocide.

Anonymous said...

Now David A. Harris the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee has issued a statement recognizing the Genocide:{54BEE0BD-BF96-48F2-9EA6-38C876AAEDA2}¬oc=1

This position is far more gracious and straightforward than Foxman's.

In any event Amos you were right to be optimistic.

I believe the only remaining major Jewish organization to be heard from on this issue is the Bnai Brith.


Amos said...

Thanks again, R., for keeping us updated like this! This is actually a major development. I don't think anyone at AJC would have been able to predict that the organization would embark on such a major policy shift.

Anonymous said...

Habani to Amos. Thank you and I am staying corrected, on the Leb. Armenian situation. Also I see some small island of wisdom in the ocean of stupidy of the Jewish leadership in the way the Armenian problem is being handled now, see what will happen to foxman. Hpefully a start of a trend, also on my side.
Thank you.

Nobody said...

a post on political correctness that you may want to see .. i am not going to update anymore and so it will soon disappear in the archives

The French and the Necromongers

Nobody said...

you may want to check this post too .. israeli arabs and poverty ... i was posting there in the comments section ... i dont know if people will come back to it for a renewed discussion but it's good if you comment anyway

Nobody said...

another one on arabs, poverty and bibi: Unintended Consequences