The town of Bedford has become the latest to join the growing list of area communities to distance itself from an antibias program mired in controversy over the Anti-Defamation League's stance on the Armenian genocide.
The five-member Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Monday to suspend the ADL's No Place for Hate program at the urging of the community's Violence Prevention Coalition, an umbrella group that oversaw the community's participation in the national program.
"I don't think we should be carrying the banner of the Anti-Defamation League as long as it puts their interests ahead of protecting all of us from discrimination," Selectman Gordon Feltman said to a packed room of more than two dozen who turned out for the vote.
At least eight other Massachusetts towns - including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington, and Watertown - previously had suspended or severed ties with the ADL and No Place for Hate.
The Medford City Council also recently suspended the program. Community members there re sponded early this month by gathering in an impromptu ceremony to take down a prominent outdoor sign declaring the community a No Place for Hate location.
The program, once certified in more than 60 Massachusetts communities, provides grant money and expertise for educational activities fighting discrimination.
Bedford officials had discussed the issue earlier in the fall but chose to wait and see whether the ADL's national board would endorse a resolution before Congress about the Armenian genocide in its Nov. 2 meeting.
The ADL's board decided in that meeting not to take further action on whether to classify as genocide the Ottoman Empire's massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.
The ADL, formed to fight anti-Semitism, has been concerned about relations with Turkey, the modern-day successor of the Ottoman Empire and a key Muslim ally of Israel.
Kathryn Eskandarian, an Armenian-American who lives in Bedford and supported the suspension of the local program, said in an interview that she understands the dilemma for the ADL. But, she added, "they need to figure out if they're an advocacy group for one particular group or really a human rights organization."
Cathy Cordes, a Bedford selectwoman and member of the town's Violence Prevention Coalition, criticized the ADL for being inconsistent as to how it chooses when to oppose discrimination.
"We believe it's a conflict with ADL's own mission statement," she said.
Selectman Sheldon Moll also voted to suspend ties with the program but told the audience he had hesitated to get involved with international politics.
"The selectmen of Bedford have studiously attempted to stay away from political proclamations," Moll said. "Our job is to do the business of the town. . . . We feel that we can take your money, but we shouldn't look in your head."
An ADL spokesman said his group regrets the town's vote.
"The ADL provides a wealth of expertise in fighting hate and promoting diversity. It's an important resource for all the citizens of the town," Al Gordon, the ADL's associate regional director, said in a phone interview from his Boston office.
"We believe the people of Bedford will regret the absence of those resources."
But on Monday night, audience members at the board's meeting greeted the 5-to-0 vote with smiles and backslapping as they emptied the Bedford hall.
Unlike some towns, though, Bedford merely suspended its affiliation, with the hope that a change in the ADL's position could lead to a reinstatement.
In the meantime, Feltman encouraged the members of the antiviolence coalition to continue to fight against hate even if they didn't have the ADL's program and grant money.
Violence Prevention Coalition member Nancy Asbedian said in an interview that the group sponsored programs for five years before the No Place for Hate funding began in 2002.
"And we will continue," she said.
A coalition of three groups will host a discussion in Watertown Wednesday about the Armenian massacre and the impact of how communities discuss genocide.
Armenian National Committee of America representatives George Aghjayan and Sharistan Melkonian, as well as professor Henry Theriault, director of the Human Rights Center at Worcester State College, are scheduled to speak.
The World in Watertown (which merged with the town's former No Place for Hate Committee), the Wayside Youth Coalition, and the Armenian National Committee of America will host the program from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Watertown High School auditorium at 50 Columbia St.
Kytja Weir can be reached at email@example.com.