By Daphne Abeel
WATERTOWN, Mass. — The Watertown Town Council stopped short, at its meeting Tuesday, August 12, of taking a vote on a resolution offered by Town Councilor Stephen Corbett, regarding Blue Cross/ Blue Shield’s (BC/BS) relationship with No Place for Hate (NPFH), a program sponsored by the Anti- Defamation League (ADL).
It was Watertown, which a year ago, sparked a state-wide movement to criticize the ADL’s stance on the Armenian Genocide, after Newton resident David Boyajian published a letter in the Watertown TAB exposing the ADL’s position on the Genocide. Since then, 13 Massachusetts towns have cut their ties with NPFH, which is sponsored by the ADL.
A statement issued last November by the ADL’s national office calling the events of 1915 “tantamount to Genocide” failed to appease members of the Armenian community and its supporters.
Instead the councilors voted unanimously to send a strongly worded letter to Blue Cross/ Blue Shield’s president and CEO, asking the company to explain why it funds NPFH program. The resolution will be taken up again at the next Town Council meeting, which is scheduled for September 9.
The draft resolution reads, in part, “Whereas: Taxpayers pay the major share of the premiums for the many Town employees who have Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance; and, Whereas: The Council believes that taxpayer funds which are directed to Blue Cross/Blue Shield should not be spent on a program affiliated with an organization which diminishes the factuality of, and works against recognition of, a widely acknowledged genocide. Now Therefore Be It Resolved: The City known as the Town of Watertown hereby asks BC/BSMA to expeditiously sever ties with NPFH and similar ADL programs; and that the Council shall send to BC/BSMA chief executives and members of the Board of Directors a letter with this Resolution, that asks for such severance and requests a prompt and positive response; and the council shall take due notice, make public, and discuss BSBCMA’s response.”
Councilors Marilyn Devaney and Mark Sideris co-sponsored the resolution.
In addition, they still sponsor various Genocide resolutions in Congress.
Town Council President Clyde Younger, on Monday, August 18, defended the Town Council decision to send the letter and resolution to BC/BS, rather than voting on the resolution.
“Before taking a vote, we wanted to provide the same opportunity to Blue Cross/ Blue Shield as we did to Andrew Tarsy of the Anti-Defamation League — to come before the Town Council and speak.”
Gulnar Sahagian, an activist from Needham who attended the Watertown meeting, said, “Watertown has been standing up for this from the beginning, for eight months, but we haven’t so far received any answers. Hopefully, we will get an answer now.
Jay McQuaide, vice president of Corporate Communications and spokesperson for BC/BS said, on August 18, “We’ll be putting something in writing to the Watertown Town Council and we will be meeting with the council either on September 9, or at some other time to talk about our thoughts on the matter. We have been thinking about this, and I know they have a lot of questions. We think there has been some misrepresentation out there.
Corbett said, “This compromise was the best we would come up with. The Town Council president was going to table the resolution unless we allowed Blue Cross/Blue Shield to speak.”
Added Corbett, “Blue Cross/Blue Shield is a major insurer for the town. I have the plan myself through my wife’s health coverage. It would be quite unrealistic for the town itself to sever its relationship with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. What we are trying to do is bring pressure on them to sever their relationship with No Place for Hate.”
One of the arguments advanced by activists who hope to see BC/BS sever its relationship with the NPFH program is that taxpayer’s funds that pay for health care are being directed, in part, to support the NPFH program, which in turn is sponsored by the ADL. BC/BS has not responded to queries concerning how much of its funds go to support the NPFH program.