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Elliot Leven


By Elliot Leven, June 10, 2010

One of the most bizarre chapters in the ongoing movement to demonize Israel is the saga now playing itself out in the Toronto gay community.  The organizers of Toronto’s annual Pride festivities have locked horns with a small group calling itself Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (“QuAIA”).

Every June, gay communities around the world hold Pride festivities, often including a march or parade. The festivities have both a political and a social aspect.  Winnipeg’s march took place on June 6, 2010.

For years, Toronto has held an enormous Pride celebration, which has consistently drawn many tourists into Toronto. Because of the huge tourist appeal, the event has attracted funding from all levels of government.  In a separate news story, the federal government has declined to fund the event this year.

QuAIA is a group of Toronto gays and lesbians, including some Jewish members. Last year, the group marched in Toronto’s Pride march.  Some people were offended by their presence.  Firstly, the word “apartheid” is a highly loaded term.  Secondly, some felt that an event for gays and lesbians is not an appropriate forum for expressing views about Middle East politics. 

Supporters of QuAIA insist that Pride is a diverse and freewheeling event, and that it must not “censor” any group. QuAIA supporters further argue that gays and lesbians should be concerned with all kinds of human rights, including the human rights of the Palestinian people.

This year, QuAIA wants to march again.  Its opponents have tried to persuade the City of Toronto to cut off funding for the Pride events if QuAIA is allowed to march.  This has sparked a further debate about whether Toronto Pride has become too large, too commercial and too dependent on government funding, and whether it should be a smaller and less commercial.

Though the situation changes daily, it appears that Pride organizers will ban QuAIA from the march.  There are indications that QuAIA may attempt to organize various rival events.  For up to the minute news on this subject, go to the – the website of Xtra (a Toronto-based gay and lesbian newspaper).

One of the great ironies of the QuAIA debate is that Israel is far more tolerant of gays and lesbians that any Arab nation, or the Palestinian Authority for that matter.  Though Israel is not perfect (it has neither same-sex marriage nor same-sex domestic partnerships), the Arab world (along with Iran and a few nations in Africa) is the worst place on Earth to be gay or lesbian.

As I have written before in the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Israel is very different from apartheid-era South Africa in profound ways.  However, by giving preferential treatment to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in comparison to Arab towns and cities in the West Bank, Israeli policy does partly resemble some aspects of South Africa’s apartheid policies.  This does not make Israel “an apartheid state,” but it is a shortcoming.

I also believe that the gays and lesbians should be concerned about the human rights of other minority groups.  For that matter, I believe that Jews should be concerned about the human rights of gays and lesbians.

I also believe that a shrewd public relations strategy always avoids making crackpots into martyrs.  For example, Ernst Zundel was an obscure crank until the fiasco of his prosecution for “spreading false news” (an archaic section of the Criminal Code).  Zundel eventually persuaded the Supreme Court of Canada that the “false news” law violated that Charter of Rights. In the process, Zundel got a million dollars worth of free publicity, and became a martyr for free speech.  The prosecution was a big mistake; he should have been allowed to wallow in obscurity.

QuAIA was a small group which was hardly noticed in Toronto’s massive Pride march.  If it was merely ignored, it would have eventually ceased to exist.  Instead, it is now the centre of a media circus, and has been allowed to posture as a “victim of censorship”.  Supporters of Israel in Toronto are now being painted as “pro-censorship”. The debate has become polarized, and the rhetoric on both sides has escalated.

The current conflict does nothing to further the interests of Toronto gays and lesbians.  Nor does it help the Palestinian people in any concrete way.  It certainly does nothing to help the gay and lesbian citizens of Arab lands, including those under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.

The whole QuAIA fiasco is barely a footnote in the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it is certainly one of the most bizarre footnotes in the book.

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