No Free Speech in Canada? Banning “Israeli Apartheid” at Toronto Pride

Canada’s Gay and Lesbian Newspaper, Xtra reports on 9/11/12:

Toronto City Council’s executive committee has asked the city manager to rewrite the city’s anti-discrimination policy to prohibit criticism of Israel, which would directly affect funding for Pride Toronto.

Council requested the review in June because some councillors say Pride Toronto’s $123,807 city grant should be contingent on the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the Pride parade.

The executive committee vote was a stunning 9 to 1.

We’ve been covering the ups and downs of this remarkable story about efforts to ban two simple words: “Israeli apartheid.” This example of trying to legislate a permanent protective shield around only one country in the world is a dramatic example of similar efforts happening across N. America and Europe driven by groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee.

The recent passage of HR35 by the California State Assembly, a resolution that grotesquely conflates criticism of Israel, and pro-human rights activism, with anti-Semitism, exemplifies this disturbing trend.

Most cynical of all- these efforts to run roughshod over free speech rights claim to protect Jews. In fact, they are about protecting the rightwing government of Israel, often from Jews (and of course many others). Meanwhile, no other country in the world, not even the United States, enjoys such protections. Or at least straight-faced efforts to legislate such protections.

And why this debate is only happening around the LGBT Pride Parade is another question altogether-which you can find answered at this ground-breaking conference on Homonationalism sponsored by CUNY in NY.

QUAIA Background

This is just the latest episode of a Simon Weisenthal Center and Canadian B’nai Brith-backed effort going back at least as far as 2010 to ban the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid from the Toronto Gay Pride Parade. As we wrote then:

Are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities the next battle ground for the struggle over Palestinian equal rights? They certainly are in San Francisco, where this month’scontroversial Out in Israel festival seeks in part to erase the occupation by promoting Israel as a gay mecca, and in Toronto, where a nasty smear campaign is being waged to ban a group called Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from the annual Pride parade.

What’s remarkable about Toronto isn’t that some oppose QuAIA’s presence in the parade–in the classic tradition of LGBT parades, which are by their very nature acts of political resistance, QuAIA’s message is challenging and it’s meant to be.  What’s amazing is that their opponents– who object to the term “apartheid” despite its almost commonplace usage by many Israelis–have resorted to openly duplicitous and unethical means for literally banishing the group and harming the parade to achieve their aims.

Actually, it makes perfect sense. You can’t ban a group for using the word ‘apartheid’, so you have to fabricate evidence to suggest the group is a hate group. And that’s exactly what’s happening to QuAIA, which, surprise surprise, includes a lot of self-loving anti-occupation Jews.

Months later, Toronto Prides luminaries were in open and inspiring rebellion against the parade’s capitulation to absurd pressure.

On June 7, over 20 high-level past and present awardees and grand marshals left their statuettes at the door of Pride Toronto following the resignation of the parade’s international grand marshals. They were protesting what will surely be remembered as one of the most shameful actions ever taken by a pride group: succumbing to pressure from Canada’s excessively right wing B’nai Brith to bar the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) by banning the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid.”

The rebellion worked, and Toronto Pride later reversed positions! (apologies if you are confused–think childhood Yes/No Game. Yes we are censoring you. No, we’re not. Yes, we are. No, we’re not.

Now censors are going around Toronto Pride leadership and straight to the city which could potentially withhold 6 figures if they allow QUAIA to march.

Meanwhile, it’s important to yet again remind elected officials that an increasing number of Israeli political leaders, writers, scholars, South Africans and others use the term Israeli apartheid with nary a wink.  Ban QUAIA? Then ban former Israeli education minister and feminist hero Shulamit Aloni, or former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, or most recently? Bibi Netanyahu’s nephew: Yoni Ben Artzi, now a grad student at Brown University: http://www.alternet.org/world/meet-bibi-netanyahus-refusenik-nephew-who-says-israel-apartheid-state

-Cecilie Surasky