Tag Archives: LGBT

Under pressure, Pride Toronto reverses censorship of “Israeli apartheid”

We’ve written extensively about the pressure campaign led in part by Canada’s B’nai Brith to ban the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from all Pride Toronto events including the LGBTQI pride parade, the Dyke and Trans marches.

B’nai Brith boasted in a May press release:

B’nai Brith Canada has contacted the organizers of Toronto’s Pride Parade to urge them ensure that the agenda of the annual Pride Parade is not allowed to be hijacked by the propaganda of anti-Israel agitators. The Jewish human rights organization has also contacted the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Ontario, and the Mayor of Toronto, all contributors to the Pride Parade, asking for a review of the funding in light of the stated agenda of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

And after Pride Toronto remarkably agreed to censor the two words “Israeli apartheid” from the parades (while it’s perfectly legal to utter the phrase in Israel or write it in Israel’s most prestigious newspaper), it seemed as though B’nai Brith and friends won. But after a massive backlash, Pride Toronto has just announced it has overturned the ridiculous decision. Xtra reports:

Pride Toronto (PT) has reversed its May board resolution banning the term “Israeli apartheid” and will instead require all participants to sign and abide by the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy.

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) — the target of the ban — has declared a victory and congratulated the queer community for pushing PT to reverse its censorship decision.

“This is a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement, which has faced censorship and bullying tactics from the Israel lobby for far too long,” said QuAIA member Tim McCaskell in the release.

Of course, QuAIA now owes a debt of thanks to their opponents who have done more than anyone to make sure the phrase “Israeli apartheid” would be on the lips of just about everyone in Canada following the story. Plus, before the ban was rescinded, QuAIA didn’t waste any time in offering an alternative free speech track for pride events. This is creative organizing:

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The Israel Lobby’s Smear Campaign and Toronto Gay Pride

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’s controversial 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.

The formation of Canada’s Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) was an inevitable response to Brand Israel efforts to “Pinkwash” Israel. That is, make the occupation disappear and fuel anti-Arab contempt by promoting Israel as a Middle Eastern “modern, Occidental and liberal” mecca in contrast to its “anti-gay”, “darkly exotic” and entirely unsympathetic Oriental neighbors. Yeah, the bigotry is that obvious. (And exactly how are you supposed to organize for LGBT rights when you’re literally fighting for your survival while under a 43 year long occupation?)

But groups like B’nai Brith (which, in Canada, is inexplicably to the right of AIPAC) and the Simon Weisenthal Center, as well as –apparently acting on his own–a lawyer named Martin Gladstone, have been pushing back and demanding that Toronto Pride ban the group from marching in any future parades.

The curiously right-wing Canadian B’nai Brith, which, as Andy Lehrer of Independent Jewish Voices mockingly said, “discovered gay rights this week,” has been complaining about the “hijacking” of gay agenda. So they’ve been going after Pride advertisers.

Gay lawyer Gladstone may be genuinely concerned about what he feels is a hostile anti-Israeli environment at the pride parade, but that wouldn’t explain why he has resorted to a series of unethical actions from possibly trying to stack community focus groups, to creating a propaganda video (see below) with generous footage of anti-Semitic signs from anti-war marches in…. another country! His charges, which have found their way to the mainstream media even after they were debunked, include false claims about a QuAIA chant and transparently false charges that the contingent included anti-Semites who sported swastikas.

QuAIA responds to these false charges here- but Gladstone’s video is still making the rounds, which amusingly asserts that if you march in a gay pride parade you automatically endorse every single group in the parade (tell that to the queer quakers and the LGBT Veterans group.)

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Jewish world to queer Jews: gay is great! Caring about Palestinians is forbidden!

Earlier this summer, Israel launched what can best be described as a queer-washing campaign to promote its more tolerant approach to gay rights over the anti-gay, mean, evil, Iranians and Palestinians. Israel’s right-wing supporters may hate Palestinians but this summer, they just LOVE THE GAYS! It’s one of the more cynical uses of liberal and progressive issues as both distraction and wedge.

Whether the organizers were aware of being used or not, it’s likely that the push for a strong Jewish LGBT presence at this year’s San Francisco Gay Pride parade was part of this initiative. Hence the multitude of Israeli flags in the contingent – the Israeli Consulate was all over it.

A group of queer Jews, most of whom work or worship inside the Jewish community, decided to join the contingent but with their own signs which read “Pride in Israel when Palestine is Free ” and “Feygele for Free Palestine.” They had a rude awakening after the parade, learning that while gay may be great in the mainstream Jewish world,  Jews-who-acknowledge-Palestinians-as-humans are expected to stay in the closet.

They write in JVoices:

We, Queer members of the Bay Area Jewish Community and our allies, are deeply saddened by events surrounding the “Jews March for Pride” contingent in this year’s San Francisco Pride Parade.

We wanted to march with “Jews March for Pride” because we are proud to be Queer Jews and allies. We felt excited and privileged to have a place in the San Francisco Pride Parade to celebrate our whole selves as Jews and Queers.

However, our sense of pride in the contingent was shattered when we learned that not only would the Israeli Consulate be marching with Israeli flags, but also that “inclusion monitors” would censor anything that deviated from the narrow message of “Jews support LGBT equality.” We see this as a contradiction. Support for the Israeli government is a political position that is not synonymous with support for LGBT equality, and is not synonymous with Judaism. Because these strong Israeli symbols would be dominating the contingent, we felt we could not in good conscious march without publically repudiating those messages. And although the planners reached out to include us, we felt excluded when any disagreement we voiced was declared “off message” and inappropriate.”

Not surprising. However, they were allowed to march in the parade (Yay!) Here’s the boo part:

“But the real consequences of our action have occurred in the days and weeks following the parade. Many of us have faced social sanctions in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who work in Jewish organizations have been harshly shamed in our workplaces and our political views have become a topic of discussion amongst our peers and supervisors. We feel vulnerable in the very community that had supposedly organized to support us as Queer Jews.”

I know at least one of these stories and it’s a real whopper. If and as soon as they decide to make it public, we’ll let you know. Suffice it to say, the battle within the Jewish institutional world over the ability to simply think for oneself in terms of Israel and Palestinians is at times medieval. Join their Facebook group here http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=115825379792 .

- Cecilie Surasky

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