Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gay Pride Toronto bans Queers Against Israeli Apartheid

Gay Pride Toronto's board of directors has banned the phrase "Israeli apartheid" from all Pride events, caving to pressure from Toronto city council, un-named corporate sponsors and the increasingly right-wing B'nai Brith, effectively shutting out the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

Homophobic mayoral candidate Giogio Mammoliti put forward a motion at city council, to be voted on June 14 that would kill Pride's funding if they didn't ban the group's participation. More here. Citing the need to keep Gay Pride from promoting a political agenda (huh?) Pride's executive director Tracey Sandlands said "no group or person is banned from participating" they just can't use certain words together on the same banner, namely Israel and apartheid, because that apparently incites hate.

Pride Toronto’s discrimination policy is the same one mandated by the City of Toronto for all organizations it funds, which “prohibits discrimination and harassment and protects the right to be free of hate activity.” Interesting that Mammoliti himself was the subject of an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint alleging that he had promoted "hatred, discrimination and physical threats against the gay community."

This follows the cancellation of funding from the federal government, which many believe is ideological in nature, and also speaks to the right wing agenda of equating any criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. By that logic, Israel itself is filled with anti-semitic Jews, including its own Defence Minister Ehud Barak who told an Israeli conference "If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state."

But in Canada no such examination is allowed. In 2009 Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B’nai Brith Canada, called for disciplinary action against the parade's grand marshall El-Farouk Khaki, a founder of the national support group Salaam: Queer Muslim Community, because he spoke to a QuAIA event on the weekend. That's their call?

Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, commended the push to “deny funding to Pride unless it is willing to comply with the City’s anti-discrimination guidelines,” in a press release issued Apr 28.

To equate any criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is the latest right-wing bullshit, and ultimately serves only to trivialize real anti-semitism. It's is possible support the existence of Israel while deploring certain of its actions. Things do not always reduce to simple black and white terms. "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists" said George Bush on the eve of his illegal invasion of Iraq. Not to mention, Palestinians and indeed all Arabs are semitic peoples.

To pretend that the decision to ban Queers Against Israel Apartheid because they don't want to promote a political agenda is both disingenuous and revisionist on the part of Pride Toronto. The annual expression of gay pride is itself political, and numerous political groups have marched in Toronto's parade over the years.

A self-identified pair of queer women commenting at the National Post said it best:
"We find the suggestion that Toronto Pride is banning groups that are advancing a political agenda to be contrary to the very spirit of pride day, and it is disheartening to hear the executive director of Pride Toronto making statements that don't seem to understand the political background of this event. While we understand your concerns about maintaining sponsorship dollars, we strongly feel that Pride must remain a political celebration that includes many different points of view."

Elle Flanders, a member of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, said the group sought to express a political opinion at an event with a long political history.

“They’re trying to compare it to hate speech, and I find it deeply offensive, as somebody who’s been fighting human rights battles for a really long time, to hear that criticism of the state of Israel is somehow hate speech. No way,” said Flanders.

Flanders, one of many Jewish members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, added that she considered herself as a “big Jew-lover. And my Judaism taught me to stand up for what is right. This has nothing to do with anything other than criticism of Israel … Political difference need not be censored.”

More here, here and here.
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  1. Thanks for the comment on my blogpost.

    I have commented that I do hope a mutual agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. I won't suggest a specific model as an agreement must be between the two groups of people.

    I would like to hear why Pride Toronto has decided to ban "Israel Apartheid" from the events and parade. I do think it was a political decision based on funding. I don't think it was based on QuAIA not being gay enough. If that were the case, then political parties and Jewish organizations such as Kalanu/Hillel can be accused of what I call being "Gaytag" groups--non-queer groups that slap a gay label onto themselves. I did mention in my blogpost that based on the photos that I saw, the Kalanu/Hillel/B'nai Brith group seemed to be promoting Israel rather than gay rights in Israel.

    If Pride Toronto maintains its ban on the use of "Israel" and "apartheid" together, then I might suggest that members of the LGBT community hold a Queerfest party on the Toronto Islands where people can participate without censorship. Pride Toronto can have its Disney Pride Week.

  2. Thanks SkinnyDipper.

    It certainly does seem to be all about the threat of losing their funding. The trouble is, when you succumb to threats, they tend to escalate. What will city council force Gay Pride to ban next year?

  3. I see you are trying to get on Progressive Bloggers. I hope to see your blog posts there. You will have a larger audience. Once or twice per year, the PB bloggers get together at a barbecue or restaurant in Ontario.

  4. Great! I hope they approve me in time - nothing like a good dinner with friends!