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August 27, 2007

Anti-Defamation League Recognizes Armenian Genocide, But It’s Not Enough

The Anti-Defamation League did its part to right a historical wrong this week. But was it too little, too late?

The ADL, probably the most influential group representing the Jewish community in the United States, announced in mid-August that its position is now to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. This comes as a reversal of the organization’s previous position, which was to take no position, and to argue that the question is best left to historians, not to Congress. It's yet another case of events from many decades ago having a profound effect on the debates of today.


The occasion for the controversy is a resolution, currently pending in Congress, that would make it the official policy of the U.S. to recognize the Armenian genocide – a massacre of over a million members of the Armenian ethnic minority by the Ottoman Turks that took place during World War I, beginning in 1915. Armenian-Americans have pushed for years for the U.S. to recognize the genocide, while the Turkish government, as well as Turkish-American groups, have opposed it, taking the position that what took place was not genocide, but rather simply casualties of war.


The position of ADL head Abraham Foxman was opposed by many voices from within the Jewish community, including the ADL’s Boston-area director, who spoke out and was fired for his trouble. And prior to the position switch, Foxman’s resignation has been called for by the online magazine, specifically its wonderfully-written and even more wonderfully-named blog, The Daily Schvitz.


What’s the rationale for opposing the resolution, which the ADL continues to do? The idea is that Turkey is a rare majority-Muslim ally of both the U.S. and Israel, and antagonizing them is counterproductive – especially in regard to events that took place over 90 years ago and can never be undone.


Much like the U.S. reluctance to move towards an independent Kurdistan, despite it being probably the best move for both the Kurds and us, the reluctance to recognize the 1915 genocide is yet another case of a potential ally being reluctant to put pressure on Turkey. As one of the few Muslim democracies, Turkey – despite their refusal to cooperate in regard to the Kurds or the Armenians – is a valuable ally for the West in the war on terrorism.

Foxman, who has been with the ADL since 1965 and its head since 1987, has often found himself at the center of controversy in recent years. Foxman, depending on your point of view, is either a gutless liberal, a cold-hearted conservative or neither. He's been called "Likud's point man in Washington" by the left-leaning alternative weekly New York Press, but found himself on the opposite side from the cultural right during the "Passion of the Christ" controversy, when Foxman and the ADL argued – correctly, we now know – that both the film and its creator were anti-Semites.

The answer is simply that Foxman is the leader of an interest group, and he acts in most cases in what he feels represents the interests of the group itself and its constituents. These involve coming down on the left in some situations, and on the right in others. But considering that these controversies have become more and more common, and more and more indefensible from Foxman’s side – first Foxman’s lobbying for the Marc Rich pardon, and now this – perhaps it’s time for some new blood at the top of the ADL.

What’s not right is to prescribe ulterior motives to the ADL and other Jewish groups who have simply made the wrong call. In a great piece in the New Republic earlier this month about the various lobbying maneuvering behind the Armenian genocide, Michael Crowley quoted an observer as saying that, "Jewish groups don't want to give up their ownership of the term genocide.”


But that’s not quite true either. After all, the American-Jewish community has been among the most vocal in the world in regard to ending the killing in Darfur. And the Armenian genocide has a unique connection to the Holocaust itself: Adolf Hitler is said by historians to have pointed to the ambivalence of most of the world to the killing of the Armenians, and decided that he could then mount a genocide of his own.

The genocide of the Armenians did indeed take place, historians find nearly unanimously, and Turkey needs to come to grips with its past and apologize for it. And it’s time America, and interest groups within it, push for the resolution to acknowledge this, and put pressure on Turkey to do so as well.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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