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Showdown over Armenian Genocide Question Expected at ADL Conference

Top leaders of the Anti-Defamation League are strenuously fighting efforts to get the organization to adopt a more unambiguous position on the Armenian genocide at a national commission meeting.

The ADL’s New England leadership is pushing for a more clearly worded statement recognizing the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide.

In a bid to head off this effort at Thursday’s meeting in New York, a letter was sent to dozens of the organization’s national commissioners last week from 22 senior lay leaders opposing any change to the ADL’s current position.

In August, under mounting pressure from its Boston-area constituency, the ADL reversed longstanding policy and called the “consequences” of the killings “tantamount to genocide.” Some have called that formulation insufficient and a deliberate hedge, a claim the ADL denies.

Sources familiar with national ADL decision-making say the battle shaping up over the genocide question is virtually without precedent.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, is said to wield significant influence over the proceedings. A push for action from a particular region rather than from the ADL’s various committees, and a powerful push back from the organization’s top leadership is unusual.

In their letter, the senior ADL leaders defended the August statement as a clear recognition that the killings were genocide and caution that any reopening of the question could further jeopardize U.S. and Israeli relations with Turkey, which adamantly rejects the genocide label.

Turkey has lobbied intensively to defeat a congressional measure recognizing the massacres as genocide.

“A resolution by the National Commission, ADL’s most important body, of the kind recommended by our Boston colleagues (even if ADL does not endorse H. Res. 106) would be viewed and reported on as an action against Turkey and would be used aggressively by those seeking to gain passage of H. Res. 106,” the leaders wrote, referring to the U.S. House of Representatives resolution.

“At a time when support for H. Res. 106 seems to be losing impetus in Congress as more and more Representatives are beginning to recognize the consequences that would flow from adoption of the resolution, we do not believe ADL should step back into this political thicket and run the risk of being perceived as a catalyst in reviving the momentum on H. Res. 106.”

The Armenia question has bedeviled the ADL for months, since a Boston suburb moved to sever its ties with No Place for Hate, a popular ADL anti-bigotry program, in protest of the organization’s refusal to use the term genocide.

Amid the furor, the ADL reversed itself on Aug. 21, but the momentum against No Place for Hate has only increased. Four other Boston-area communities have since broken ties with the program.

Armenian activists in the area accuse the ADL of genocide denial and have launched a Web site, NoPlaceForDenial.com, which demands an unambiguous statement on the genocide and support for the congressional measure.

Once considered a sure thing, the congressional resolution has lost steam in recent weeks following intense opposition and ominous statements from Ankara, including signs that anger over the resolution could prompt Turkey to launch attacks into northern Iraq against Kurdish terrorists.

In Washington, the resolution has been criticized by Turkish lobbyists and former secretaries of state, eight of whom wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging her not to allow the issue to come to a floor vote.

Jewish groups also have expressed concern that passage could lead Turkey to downgrade its partnership with Israel and imperil the tiny Turkish Jewish community.

Few expect that the ADL will decide to endorse the congressional resolution. But Boston leaders have been pushing to have the organization issue a clearer statement on genocide in the hope of stanching the flow of communities defecting from No Place for Hate.

One Boston leader described the opposition coming from the top as “hand-to-hand combat.”

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