Saturday, August 18, 2007

ADL: Do the Right Thing

The Anti-Defamation League is an organization with years of good and meaningful work to combat anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism. That's why it's regrettable that the organization refuses to use the term "genocide" to describe the murder of a million Armenians by Turkey in the early part of the 20th century. The New England chapter of the ADL recently broke with the national office on this issue, leading to the firing of the chapter's regional director. As the following letter details (Boston Globe),
"The Association of Genocide Scholars and the community of Holocaust scholars, as well as numerous others, have written that this horrific event was genocide. In 2000, 126 leading Holocaust scholars -- including Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel -- published a statement in The New York Times that sought both to "affirm the incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide and urge Western Democracies to officially recognize it."

The matter is not subject to interpretation. In recent decades, the Armenian genocide has been referred to as "the forgotten genocide" and to understand it is to note that it was the template for the genocides that followed: the Holocaust, Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and today in Darfur. Adolf Hitler famously said in 1939 upon the commencement of his own "final solution:" "Who now remembers the Armenians?"

It seems unconscionable to me that--for any reason--an organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry would not unequivocally put itself squarely in the corner of a people who were the target of premeditated ethnic annihilation. One can always come up with political reasons--even realistic and reasonable-sounding ones--for why one can't do so. But if we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that no reason ought to be good enough. Because if one does exist on the basis of political and diplomatic relationships, we have to give that out to all of the nations who looked the other way during the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII failed to condemn Nazi Germany during WWII. When Pope John Paul II apologized in 2000 for the Church's treatment of Jews, women and minorities in the past, a percentage of the Jewish community (including the ADL) was upset because he did not specifically mention the Holocaust itself. Why? Because there was a need to have the genocide itself acknowledged. Why then, is the ADL denying that acknowledgement to Armenians?

Contrast the ADL's response to Pope John Paul II's 2000 Liturgy of Forgiveness, specifically addressing his failure to speak directly of the Holocaust...
Pope John Paul II has missed an historic opportunity to bring closure to Christian responsibility for specific sins against the Jewish people over the past 2,000 years. We are saddened and disappointed that this pontiff, who has done so much to further Catholic-Jewish relations, stopped short in addressing specific Catholic wrongs against the Jewish people, especially the Holocaust.

...with this tepid pseudo-justification of their position on Armenia:
ADL has acknowledged and never denied the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians — and by some accounts more than one million — at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1918. We believe that the Turkish government must do more than it has to confront its history and to seek reconciliation with the Armenian people. We have said that to the Turkish government and its officials, we will continue to do so, and we take this opportunity to repeat it publicly. We will continue to work to convince Turkey to pursue recognition and reconciliation, and we will seek ways to encourage this process.
The ADL, via Abraham Foxman, says that the Armenia issue is not their issue, that "We're not party to this, and I don't understand why we need to be made party." So the ADL is declaring itself NOT a party to a potential genocide? So why did the ADL make itself party to the Balkans and Darfur?

The reason involves both the tenuous position of Turkish Jews who live under dhimmi-like status and Turkey's diplomatic relationship with Israel. A Far-Better-Than-I-Can-Write explanation is here.

The bottom line is that the ADL simply cannot have it both ways. Either a genocide is a genocide is a genocide, whose "specific...wrongs" must be addressed by the parties responsible, or certain political and diplomatic "reasons" for not requiring that resolution are justifiable.

Take your pick, ADL. And know that your credibility within and without the Jewish community--domestically and internationally--is at stake.

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