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Genocide and its Partisans: What the ADL Did Wrong

          I don't see how the Anti-Defamation League, either the national organization or its New England regional branch, can dig itself out of the Armenian Genocide hole, into which it falls further each day, unless it devises a more principled position on a question that is central to this entire controversy: “Who writes history?”

The beleaguered national organization’s leader, Abe Foxman, never recovered from one crucial early misstep: adopting the position that he “doesn't know” if the events that transpired during the fall of the Ottoman Empire constitute a genocide. That was a completely untenable position for Foxman to hold, given that the ADL continues to label the ongoing conflict in the Sudan a genocide, when in truth it has no way of knowing if that conflict can be labeled as such either.

It’s fine that the ADL wants to speak out on issues that aren’t directly related to the Jewish people. But, when it made that decision to branch out, it should have known better than to bandy about the G-word when describing Darfur while simultaneously taking an agnostic position on the unavoidable Armenian question. What the ADL should have said that is that, ultimately, historical questions must be interpreted and decided by scholars and by official bodies tasked with making legal determinations (courts and U.N. agencies that deal with war crimes). This has been my long-held view, and it is the basis for Griswold v. Driscoll, a 1st amendment test case I filed in Massachusetts state court in 2004 (read more here and here).

 Unfortunately, the ADL would have a hard time adopting such a commonsense position at this point. Much damage has been to done to its credibility, and the decision to fire Andrew Tarsy, the regional director who broke with the company line and voiced his personal opinion that there was an Armenian Genocide, hasn’t helped much either. Nor, in fact, is the regional ADL’s position – that there was in fact an Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks, and that anyone on the other side is a genocide denier – any more tenable, since it is obvious that the regional office contradicted the national office not on the basis of a close study of the historical evidence, but on the basis of a sense that it would be amoral to deny the Armenians their genocide.

Even Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, paladin of free speech and intellectual inquiry, opined in a co-authored (with Rachel Kaprielian) op-ed in The Boston Globe that “the matter is not subject to interpretation” – this, despite the fact that well-reputed scholars such as Princeton’s Bernard Lewis and Louisville's Justin McCarthy disagree, and prominent University of Massachusetts-Amherst historian Guenter Lewy has argued forcefully that the available historical documentation is currently too spotty to justify too rigidly-held a conclusion. If truly the Armenian Genocide is not a fit subject for discussion, argument, scholarship, and disagreement, what is? Must all historical decisions and interpretations be made on the basis of what is the politically correct and seemingly moral position of the day, or are free minds at liberty to inquire and discuss, rather than merely to parrot acceptable positions?

It also doesn’t help that, in recent years, the ADL has indulged in the huge mistake of insisting on certain litmus tests and dubbing certain views “hate speech,” where anyone announcing a politically incorrect view on certain hot-button social and political issues becomes a “hater.” Where the words one uses, or chooses not to use, become litmus tests for determining one’s essential decency and fitness to join the family of man, then we know that substance has given way to style, free inquiry to tyranny. Further, the ADL has insisted that it’s not enough to concede what the historical evidence clearly shows – that the Nazis went out systematically exterminating Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other discreet populations – but one must go further and concede that the Holocaust is unique in history etc., or else be dubbed a “Holocaust denier.”  I have long thought that ADL would eventually drive itself into a corner and suffer the slings and arrows of its own manufacture. This seems to be playing out in front of our eyes on the "Armenian Genocide" issue.


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