Needham officials are lashing out at the Anti-Defamation League for the reluctance of its national leadership to fully recognize the Armenian genocide, but have stopped short of withdrawing from the ADL's No Place for Hate program, as Watertown and Newton have done.
The town's Human Rights Committee has demanded that the ADL recognize the deportation and killing of more than 1 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923 as a genocide.
No Place for Hate, a program designed to help towns foster respect and diversity, has come under intense scrutiny since August, when the national ADL's position on the Armenian genocide prompted officials of Watertown to withdraw from the program.
On Tuesday, Newton Mayor David Cohen said he would accept the recommendation of his city's Human Rights Commission and drop out of No Place for Hate until the national ADL definitively recognizes the historical events in question as genocide.
ADL Executive Director Abraham Foxman has stated that the atrocities were "tantamount" to genocide. The ADL's regional office in New England has labeled what happened to the Armenians a genocide
Needham officials say the ADL's inability to accurately describe the atrocities undermines the goal of the No Place for Hate program.
ADL officials from both the national office in Washington and the New England office in Boston did not respond to calls seeking comment. However, a message on the organization's website states that the ADL continues to characterize a proposed congressional resolution on the matter as "a counterproductive diversion [that] will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians."
Needham's Human Rights Committee earlier this month sent a letter to the national ADL offices in Washington, D.C., asking that it reconsider its position and back legislation labeling as genocide the mass killings of Armenians.
"The ADL has asked us to detach the 'No Place for Hate' program from the controversy surrounding its positions regarding the Armenian genocide," the letter states. "We are unable to do so. We cannot proudly cite our town as 'No Place for Hate' when the sponsoring organization is not doing all in its power to work against hate and oppression."
The ADL is expected to reexamine the issue at its November meeting, but Needham's human rights group is hoping that the issue will be taken up sooner, said Debbie Watters, committee chairwoman and author of the letter. Her panel is waiting to hear from the ADL before making a recommendation to selectmen as to whether they should cut ties with the No Place for Hate program.
Needham's Board of Selectmen is waiting to hear from the Human Rights Committee before it makes a final decision on whether to remain in the No Place for Hate program, said Gerald Wasserman, chairman of the board.
Selectman John Bulian also expressed concern with the ADL's perspective on the issue, but said Needham needs more information before making a decision.
"We can always sever ties, but it's more important that the national ADL change its position," Bulian argued. "Once you've severed ties with an organization, what's their incentive to change?"