Thursday, March 26, 1998

ADL's Zakim Regrets Offense to Armenian Community

Jewish Journal Staff

"I regret if any Armenian - or anyone in the community - was offended or made uncomfortable," New England Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Leonard Zakim said this week in an interview with The Jewish Journal, referring to a November 8 ad in the New York Times. The ad, paid for by ADL, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress, congratulated Turkey on its 75th anniversary as a
republic, and thanked the Turkish government for its long-held support of Jews and the State of Israel.

The ad drew criticism from many Armenians and Jews because it praised Turkey for its "democratic and secular ideals" (see Jewish Journal editorial and article in November 13 issue and letter to the editor and op-ed piece in this issue). Critics such as Harvard Professor James Russell, himself a Jew who teaches Armenian studies, were appalled by the ad's content since Turkey has never acknowledged the systematic genocide of Armenians living within its borders in the early part of the century. Unlike modern Germany, modern Turkey has made no reparations and still refuses to admit the historically documented events.

The ad notwithstanding, Zakim vowed the continued support for the inclusion of the Armenian Genocide in studies covered by ADL-sponsored Holocaust education. As he explained, Holocaust education in this country offers many students the only exposure they will ever have to the facts of the Armenian Genocide. He also
emphasized the commitment of all three organizations to bringing human rights issues to the table in dealings with the nation of Turkey. "The ADL and the other Jewish organizations believe that through the continually improving relationship between Israel and Turkey, the opportunity for dialogue about important issues like human rights and the need for Turkey to further democratize will be more effectively raised.".

Zakim referred to Abraham Foxman, national ADL director, saying that since Foxman is a Holocaust survivor himself, he "is extremely sensitive to the issues of what happens when people stand by, when they don't acknowledge their past, and they don't deal with the issues that remain today." However, Foxman's own remarks to The Jewish Journal were that Turkey "has a magnificent history of tolerance" and the conflict is
"between the Armenians and the Turks. They will hopefully someday resolve it." These statements were viewed as inflammatory and myopic by some in the Jewish and Armenian communities.

Both critics and supporters of the ad acknowledge the crucial support Turkey has given to Israel, the only democratic country in the Middle East, and understand
the strategic role Turkey has played in Israel's security. However, many agree with Harut Sassounian who, in the most recent edition of The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, published in Watertown, lambasts the three organizations for placing the ad, writing "these Jewish groups are distorting the facts about Turkey; supporting one of the worst violators of human rights in the world; encouraging the Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide, thereby undermining their own credibility in countering the revisionists of the Holocaust; offending thousands of sensible Jews around the world who must be disgusted by the immoral public stand of these three Jewish groups; and unnecessarily antagonizing the Armenian-American community and Armenians everywhere against Jews."

Labels: ,