boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe
WESTWOOD

'No Place for Hate' no longer

Town cuts ADL ties over genocide

No longer do signs welcome travelers to Westwood as a "No Place for Hate" community. Those signs, located at four town lines, were taken down last week.

Selectmen decided Monday night to suspend participation in the antidiscrimination program because they don't believe its sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League, has gone far enough in recognizing the Armenian genocide of nearly a century ago - an issue that remains a sensitive matter today, especially for area residents of Armenian heritage.

Westwood joins Arlington, Belmont, Lexington, Newton, and Watertown in suspending or cutting ties with the ADL, believing its refusal to directly acknowledge the historical genocide runs counter to the ADL's mission of fighting against hatred and fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect. About 60 cities and towns across the state, including many south of Boston, belong to the ADL's local No Place for Hate program.

"I think the community wished it didn't have to come to this," said Town Administrator Michael Jaillet. "We wish our sponsor had taken a different position and stood up for the truth."

The ADL acknowledged in August that the Ottoman Empire's massacres of Armenians from 1915 to 1923 was "tantamount to genocide." But Westwood and other critics want the ADL to use sharper language - dropping the "tantamount to" - and push for congressional passage of a resolution directly acknowledging the genocide.

Westwood, where some Armenian residents pushed for dropping the ADL affiliation, will continue promoting cultural harmony, town leaders say. But the No Place for Hate Committee will now go by a new name, the Human Rights Committee.

"The town of Westwood has concluded that our ability to carry out the founding principals of the No Place for Hate program is seriously compromised by the ADL's position on the Armenian genocide and the House and Senate resolution," said Nancy Hyde, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, reading from a letter the town sent to the ADL last week about their vote.

Al Gordon, a spokesman for the New England region of the ADL, said the town will find it difficult going it alone in its campaign for tolerance.

"We think in the long run Westwood will not profit from its decision to sever ties," Gordon said. "The ADL has internationally recognized expertise in dealing with hate incidents and promoting cultural awareness."

Since adopting the No Place for Hate program two years ago, the committee has done such things as passing out literature on tolerance, organizing panel discussions, and participating in local cultural events. The ADL helped the group locate speakers and a choir of Ugandan orphans for a Martin Luther King Day program this year.

Tom Viti, the town's library director who cochairs the Human Rights Committee, acknowledged it would be difficult to replace the connections the ADL has.

"The ADL has been really involved in high-pressure volatile situations in responding to hate crimes," he said. "The committee is going to have to do a bit more work."

But he said the town's new Human Rights Committee will probably seek out guidance from other similar groups, and hopes to offer an increased number of programs and events each year.

The ADL first came under fire this summer in Watertown. At that time, the ADL did not acknowledge the Armenian genocide, outraging the large Armenian population in that town. Watertown's decision to cut ties prompted other communities to follow and for the ADL's New England office to break from the national group's position of not calling the massacres a genocide.

Ultimately, the ADL's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, in a carefully worded statement, acknowledged the massacres was "tantamount to genocide." The group, however, did not offer to support a resolution in Congress that would officially call the massacres a genocide. Support for that legislation, which had been building momentum, appeared to be eroding last week as the Bush administration worried it might offend the Turkish government, an ally of US military troops in Iraq.

Westwood officials say they would restore the town's affiliation with the ADL if the group adopts sharper language and backs a Congressional resolution acknowledging the genocide.

"We are looking for an unequivical statement," Viti said. "A word like tantamount starts to qualify things."

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES