ADL's regional leader resigns

Backers cite rift on genocide issue

Email|Print| Text size + By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / December 5, 2007

Andrew H. Tarsy, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New England office, announced his resignation yesterday, the culmination of a months-long dispute with the national organization over its failure to fully acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Tarsy informed the national office of his departure Friday and alerted co-workers and friends yesterday. In a phone interview, he did not elaborate on the reason for his departure, calling it "a professional judgment based on knowing when it's your time."

But supporters said it was clearly the result of his rift with the ADL's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, over the genocide issue.

"At the end of the day, the vision of the New England leadership and Abe Foxman's leadership were simply not fully compatible," said Steve Grossman, a former member of the ADL New England board. Tarsy "realized that he would have to make too many compromises that he was not prepared to make. I think he leaves with his integrity intact, with his head held high."

Tarsy's announcement comes a little more than three months after he won his job back, following a high-profile showdown with Foxman over recognition of the Armenian genocide, in which more than 1 million people died. In August, Tarsy broke ranks with the national ADL, demanding that it acknowledge that genocide had occurred. Foxman fired Tarsy and then rehired him two weeks later, after acknowledging the massacres from 1915 to 1920 in the Ottoman-Turk empire were "tantamount to genocide" - a rare reversal for the longtime leader.

In a letter to the New England board announcing his resignation, Tarsy said he leaves with "sadness in my heart."

"I have always given my very best in order to advance the agency's important mission and I have decided that it is time for me to move on," he wrote. "I am proud of what we have accomplished over the nearly eight years since I came to the ADL, and in particular the two and a half years I have been regional director."

Officials at the ADL's national headquarters declined to comment yesterday, except for issuing a one-sentence statement saying they had accepted Tarsy's resignation.

"I'm very sad and disappointed," said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. "I'm sorry that the position we all took in Boston collaboratively wasn't the position that won the day."

The controversy began in August when the Watertown Town Council - under pressure from the town's large Armenian population - voted to sever its ties with the ADL's No Place for Hate antidiscrimination program, because of the organization's failure to recognize the genocide.

Human rights commissions in several other Massachusetts communities have decided in recent months to follow Watertown's lead.

Last night, selectmen in Needham voted, 4-0, with one member abstaining, to suspend involvement in No Place for Hate, said Laura Terzian, a resident who supported withdrawal.

"They're not willing to change," she said of the ADL. "There should be no equivocation."

After Foxman's capitulation, the New England ADL asked for more concessions from him, pressing the organization's national leadership to support at its annual meeting a congressional resolution acknowledging the genocide. The proposal was debated for hours in a closed-door meeting in New York by delegates from around the country, but was ultimately withdrawn.

The organization issued a public statement saying it would "take no further action on the issue of the Armenian genocide."

That decision disappointed many in the local Armenian community.

Sevag Arzoumanian, spokesman for a group called No Place for Denial, which has led the campaign to get communities to drop the ADL No Place for Hate program, said the ambiguity surrounding Tarsy's departure concerned him. He said Tarsy had been a hero among Armenians for the way he stood up to national leaders on the genocide issue. But he said more recently, Tarsy seemed to waver.

Tarsy and ADL New England board chairman Jim Rudolph wrote an editorial that appeared in two local newspapers in September that criticized the Armenian community's efforts to get cities and towns to sever ties with the ADL's No Place for Hate antidiscrimination program, he said.

"He had backtracked from his position," Arzoumanian said.

Rudolph responded by saying he and many others think Tarsy is an "outstanding leader."

"He took a stand on a difficult issue which ultimately resulted in the ADL locally and nationally recognizing the Armenian genocide," Rudolph said.

A search committee will convene soon to find Tarsy's successor.

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