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Elliot Leven

The Return of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid

By Elliot Leven, June 16, 2012




They’re back. After sitting out Toronto’s annual Pride parade last year, a group calling itself Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) is planning to march again this year.

The small group, which includes a few Jewish members, feels that Israel is an apartheid state, and that a Toronto gay pride march is the appropriate venue to express this feeling. A few of its members marched in 2010.

Unfortunately, this small group got a million dollars of free publicity last year, when some of its opponents tried to ban it from the parade. Cunningly portraying the issue as one of free speech, QuAIA garnered support from many Toronto gays and lesbians who know next to nothing about the Middle East, but who support free speech in the abstract. A small QuAIA copy-cat group even marched in Edmonton last summer.

Toronto Pride receives generous funding from Toronto City Hall. The debate last year including a sub-debate about whether Toronto should refuse to fund Pride if QuAIA marched. In the end, QuAIA decided not to march, but there is no doubt that it succeeded in winning free publicity for its dubious cause.

This year, QuAIA says that it will march again. Its members continue to miss the obvious irony that Israel is by far the most gay-positive state in the Middle East.

In an intelligent June 11 column, National Post columnist Jonathan Kay commented that the "whole sad phenomenon speaks to the obsessional nature of anti-Israeli hatred – even among gay activists who wouldn’t survive a day in the midst of the homophobic Palestinian society whose national ambitions they purport to be advancing."

The current turmoil in Syria, in which a murderous regime continues to torture and massacre men, women and children, obviously does not interest QuAIA. They only care about Israel’s shortcomings.

As I wrote last year, Israel obviously has its flaws, and its West Bank settlement policies are unjust. It is not as progressive as Canada on gay issues (no same-sex marriage or civil unions yet), but it is pretty progressive on the whole. On human rights in general, Israel is light-years more advanced that places like Syria.

QuAIA’s continuing obsession with Israel and only Israel is so irrational as to call into question the sanity of QuAIA’s members.

However, as I wrote last year, it is never good tactics to give a crackpot a soapbox. QuAIA has few members and almost no money. It should be ignored. Its opponents should disseminate accurate information about Israel’s human rights record (which is imperfect, but much better than those of Israel’s neighbors). But they should not try to ban QuAIA from the march. They should not let the debate be framed as one of free speech versus censorship.

On a positive note, Winnipeg’s annual Pride march on June 3 was a big success, and was free of crackpot groups.

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