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Judge nominee gets unfair rap in Armenian genocide dispute

The Governor’s Council is poised to make a profound error by rejecting a Massachusetts Superior Court nominee based, in part, on his volunteer activities with the Anti-Defamation League, a national organization committed to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. Whether through bad faith or a lack of familiarity with the facts, a majority of the eight-member board appears to believe that Joseph Berman, a well-regarded trial and appellate lawyer, didn’t stand up for justice during the 2007-08 clash between the league’s national leadership and the Armenian-American community.

Back then, national president Abraham Foxman tarnished the organization when he failed to acknowledge unambiguously that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians during and after World War I. The ADL’s New England branch rebelled, to its credit. Former regional director Andrew Tarsy was fired by the national office for refusing to toe the official line. Two local board members, including Boston City Councilor Michael Ross, resigned. Other local board members, including Berman, took the fight directly to the national office. They succeeded at winning recognition by the ADL of “the genocide of approximately 1.5 million Armenians’’ from 1915 to 1923.

Had Berman been an apologist for Foxman at the time, it would make sense for Governor’s Council member Marilyn Pettito Devaney and others to seek an explanation. Devaney is a resident of Watertown, which boasts a large Armenian community. But Berman was never the problem in the first place. On the contrary, he and other ADL members from Boston reset the ADL’s moral compass.


Berman’s credentials are in order. He has argued cases before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court. He is an expert on legal ethics and a respected mediator. Still, the Governor’s Council appears adamant about rejecting him.

Jeffrey Robbins, the chair of the board of the New England Anti-Defamation League, places the resistance to Berman somewhere on the path “between mystifying and bizarre.’’ Similar terms have been used before to describe the actions of the council responsible for approving and rejecting gubernatorial judicial appointments. Sometimes the body seems uninterested in the candidates. Other times it gets bogged down in extraneous or distorted issues, as is happening now with Berman’s nomination. Massachusetts shouldn’t be deprived of a qualified judge for specious reasons.