Despite the Anti-Defamation League's reversal this week of its longstanding refusal to recognize the massacre of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks almost 90 years ago as genocide, it has stopped short of supporting a resolution currently before Congress that calls on the Bush administration to give it formal recognition.
Talking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said: "Most Jews understand it's a very difficult choice. There's very little I can do [for the Armenians, who can't be brought back to life]."
"[But] I can put at jeopardy [ties with Turkey]," he said.
By siding with the Armenians, "we put at risk some very important relationships that are important to the Jewish community worldwide," because it could endanger the Turkish Jewish community and relations between Israel and Turkey, Foxman said.
Foxman's earlier refusal to change the ADL stance sparked division within the organization last week, when Foxman fired New England regional director Andrew Tarsy for his public recognition of the Armenian genocide.
Two other members of the ADL's regional board - Boston City Council member Mike Ross and former Polaroid Corp chairman Stewart Cohen - resigned in protest.
Foxman said he reversed the ADL's position because "what I was seeing in Boston was the Jewish community being ripped apart."
It was "a gesture to try to save our unity."
Following the resignation of the two board members, several Boston-based Jewish organizations - including the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Russian Community Association of Massachusetts, the Hillel Council of New England, the Bureau of Jewish Education, and the David Project Center for Jewish Leadership - signed a petition to support Tarsy and to recognize the genocide.
"I think he saw this issue dividing the Jewish community in a very significant and potentially harmful way," said Steven Grossman, a former ADL board member and ex-AIPAC chairman. "He recognized potentially losing the moral high ground they have occupied for so many years, and relations with other communities possibly eroding."
The "rock solid unanimity" of Boston's Jewish community paved the way for Foxman's change of heart, Grossman said. "Such unified and highly charged emotional consensus that failure to call this genocide, when most historians have referred to it as genocide, became an untenable position," Grossman said. "Considering the potential damage to ADL's effectiveness, it was impossible to maintain their long-held position."
Nancy Kaufman, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, also welcomed Foxman's reversal.
"We think it's terrific," Kaufman said. "The willingness to change his position is admirable and surprising, and we are delighted here that it happened."
The New England Regional ADL met Wednesday, and was expected to approve a resolution calling for Tarsy to return as regional director.
Although it welcomed the ADL's decision to use the genocide label, the Armenian National Committee of America called the organization's continued opposition to the Congressional resolution a "gesture intended to appease the Turkish government."
Boston-based Jewish organizations continued to back the resolution. "I think ADL should support the congressional bill. As much as I understand taking into consideration relations between Israel and Turkey, this is something you have to do even though it's politically difficult," said Samuel Mendales, director of Hillel Council of New England.
Other Jewish groups, however, refrained from supporting the resolution. Earlier this year, the ADL - along with the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs - opposed the legislation in a letter sent to congressional leaders.
"We've said this before - the issue is best resolved by the interested parties not by a third party," said Kenneth Bandler, AJC communications director. "It's not going to be helpful for an arm of the US government to lay in with a resolution declaring genocide."
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.