Cambridge Human Rights Commission Letter on ADL

Dear Selectmen of Lexington,

As a member of the Massachusetts Association of Human Rights and Relations Commissions, we are writing to our colleagues and neighbors in Lexington to support the efforts of those working to make the ADL accountable to its commitment of justice for all. We urge Lexington to join Watertown, Belmont, Newton and Arlington in suspending or severing ties with the ADL until they do the right thing.

First, contrary to the opinion piece by Andrew Tarsy and James Rudolph, “ADL critics go too far,” we have found no one questioning the work of the No Place for Hate (NPFH) committees. In fact those communities that have severed ties with the ADL admire the work of the local grassroots organizing by NPFH and seek to continue the work under different auspices. Second, Tarsy and Rudolph have turned the situation on its head. They claim that those challenging the ADL have turned a moral issue (the “acknowledgment” of the Armenian genocide) into a political issue (support for the Congressional resolution that would publicly and officially recognize it by the US). On the contrary, Tarsy and Rudolph’s view would make morality hollow, subsumed to the political interests the ADL is promoting.

Indeed, Abraham Foxman, director of the national ADL, wrote that they are torn between support for Israel—ADL “has been a leader in promoting Turkish-Israeli relations” and “recognizing human injustice.” The Bush administration and other politicians likewise oppose recognition of the genocide because of their political relationship with Turkey which refuses to acknowledge the scholarship of researchers from all over the world that have said the genocide is “an incontestable fact.” These scholars, including Elie Wiesel and Turkish Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk, call on all nations to recognize it as such. Should not a group like No Place for Hate that is based on civil and human rights for all, and stands against hate and bigotry, join with those scholars to stand for what is morally right? It is ADL’s prerogative to prioritize their view of Israeli interests over considerations of human justice, in this instance with regard to Armenians. But then they have lost the moral credibility to sponsor No Place for Hate. They cannot represent safety and recognition for all the town’s residents.

Many Jews were outraged by the hypocrisy of ADL for choosing to place political expediency above their commitment to human justice, knowing that if any group played that game with the Holocaust, the ADL would be the first to call them for what they were, genocide deniers.

Late last fall, the diversity committee of Cambridge employees and the Human Rights Commission considered whether Cambridge should join NPFH. Some commissioners, a few civil rights attorneys including one who had worked for the ADL, argued strongly that the behavior of the ADL over the past two decades towards Arabs, Muslims, anti-Apartheid activists, as well as their activism against any kind of affirmative action policy, was not the behavior of a civil rights/human rights organization.

While the ADL has worked on important issues, e.g., related to discrimination, it has been a leader in the fight against affirmative action, contradicting the policies of Cambridge. They filed an amicus brief in the University of Michigan case in 2003 against the University’s admissions policies that sought to create a diverse student body. The ADL was the only civil rights or Jewish organization to file an amicus brief in the Michigan cases.

For all these reasons, those committed to human rights and diversity in Cambridge did not think it appropriate for the ADL to have any authority over our diversity and human rights projects. Now the public has become aware of the political opposition of the ADL to US recognition of the Armenian genocide.

We urge Lexington Selectmen to consider these issues, and to know that severing ties with the ADL should not stop the important work of the “No Place for Hate” committee.


Charles Kavanagh, Susan Ostrander and Marla Erlien for the

The Cambridge Human Rights Commission