[News] Queers Against Israeli Apartheid refuse to be silenced

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 2 11:28:21 EDT 2010

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid refuse to be silenced
Savannah Garmon, The Electronic Intifada, 1 July 2010



On the morning of 25 May, the Board of Pride Toronto held a press 
conference on the lawn outside its offices to announce that the 
phrase "Israeli Apartheid" would be censored from the upcoming 2010 
Pride Parade. The decision, aimed at banning the Toronto-based 
activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from the parade, set 
off a firestorm in the community, including refusals to participate 
in the festival and an open letter denouncing the decision by eight 
founding members who organized the first Toronto Pride parade in 1981.

The attempt to ban political speech at Pride Toronto fits a clear 
pattern -- Israel's public relations machine has attempted to malign 
critics and silence dissent around the world for decades. And these 
attempts have recently reached new heights in Canada, in response to 
the success that Palestine solidarity activists in Canada have 
achieved in recent years.

The first Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) -- now an annual, 
international political gathering -- was held on the University of 
Toronto campus in 2005. The organizers of IAW have endorsed the call 
by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions 
(BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. The 
BDS movement is modeled on the boycott campaign that was successful 
in helping to bring apartheid to an end in South Africa through 
nonviolent means.

The apartheid analogy has put Israel and its apologists on the 
offensive because it has garnered unexpected levels of support 
through BDS and other tactics that aim to challenge Israeli state policy.

On 2 June 2009, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat 
anti-Semitism (CPCCA) was formed "... for the stated purpose of 
confronting and combating anti-Semitism in Canada today." However, 
most people involved in the BDS movement saw this as a thinly-veiled 
smear campaign against critics of Israel. The real goal of the CPCCA 
seems to be to conflate all meaningful criticism of Israeli state 
policy with anti-Semitism -- in fact, many believe it may attempt to 
amend Canada's anti-discrimination laws to label criticism of Israel 
as hate speech.

Outright censorship is not the only means in the Israel lobby's 
toolkit for silencing opposition. In recent years, Israel has 
embarked upon a "re-branding" campaign to promote an image of itself 
as a modern, liberal society with open values while whitewashing its 
deplorable human rights record.

A key component of this campaign has been the promotion of Israel as 
a nation with a progressive outlook on lesbian, gay, bisexual and 
transgender (LGBT) issues, especially in relation to its neighbors 
and Palestinian society. There is truth in this, at least for the 
Israeli Jewish population, but claims that this is of widespread 
benefit to Palestinian queers and trans people (e.g. Tel Aviv as a 
"gay Mecca") are unfounded. More importantly, that Israel recognizes 
same-sex marriages performed in other countries does nothing to 
excuse the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from its siege and 
attacks on Gaza.

It was in response to this re-branding campaign that Queers Against 
Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) formed. In fact, there are several members 
of QuAIA who also marched against South African apartheid during the 
1980s in solidarity with South African anti-apartheid activist Simon 
Nkoli, who was a black gay man. Even then, critics disparaged their 
presence in the Pride parade in Toronto, pointing to relatively 
greater acceptance of homosexuality in the white South African 
community compared to blacks living under apartheid. Today, queer 
activists have begun to label this type of expropriation of the LGBT 
struggle to distract from other human rights abuses with the term 

QuAIA also endorses the Palestinian civil society call for BDS, and 
in particular a September 2009 initiative to boycott LGBT leisure 
tourism to Israel. This campaign was initiated in response to the 
International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association's decision to hold a 
tourism conference in Tel Aviv in coordination with an Israeli LGBT 
group, Aguda, despite the Palestinian call for the boycott of Israel.

To challenge the re-branding campaign, QuAIA took its message to the 
2008 and 2009 Pride festivals in Toronto, marching without incident. 
The Israel lobby responded to QuAIA's presence with outrage and 
initiated a smear campaign against the group. Israel lobby groups 
such as B'nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal center attempted to 
portray QuAIA as an anti-Semitic hate group, despite the fact that 
many of our members have histories of anti-racist activism and many 
are Jewish themselves.

After the 2009 parade, a propaganda film was made against QuAIA by a 
local gay Jewish lawyer and self-proclaimed "gay activist." The film 
was distributed to city councilors in an attempt to convince them to 
pass a city resolution that threatened to defund Pride Toronto unless 
they banned our group from marching in 2010. What followed was a 
complex series of events; eventually, it was revealed through a 
freedom of information request that a small group of city 
bureaucrats, councilors and pro-Israel lobbyists colluded to eject 
QuAIA from the Pride parade despite the fact that they were aware 
that QuAIA in no way violated the city's anti-discrimination policy. 
Notwithstanding this revelation, the Board of Pride Toronto voted 4-3 
on 21 May to ban QuAIA, giving in to this year-long smear campaign.

The fallout from Pride Toronto's decision has been tremendous. The 
queer community of Toronto was galvanized to confront Pride about 
censorship -- after all, censorship has been previously used in 
Canada to force LGBT individuals back into the closet -- and it has 
also brought forward other concerns about de-politicization, 
corporatization and fair representation of less privileged 
communities within the LGBT umbrella. And after a month-long 
community organizing effort, Pride rescinded the ban on 26 June -- a 
significant victory for free speech and the Canadian Palestine 
solidarity movement as a whole.

In a more general sense, across North America -- and even the world 
-- the realization seems to be spreading in the LGBT community that 
our identities and our rights are being used as an excuse to deny the 
identity and the rights of another people, halfway across the globe.

Well before QuAIA formed, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism has 
been championing the message of queer solidarity with Palestine in 
San Francisco. In the wake of the ban against QuAIA and the massive 
attention it has received, at least four new groups have formed 
worldwide projecting a similar message.

Further, a channel of communication has begun to develop between 
queer activists in Palestine and those in the Palestinian Diaspora. 
The two main Palestinian LGBT organizations, ASWAT and al-Qaws, have 
released a joint statement condemning Pride Toronto's banning of our 
group while a new queer Palestinian group has formed endorsing the 
call for BDS. In the end QuAIA invited the Palestinian director of 
al-Qaws to visit with QuAIA during Pride -- she will be marching with 
us in the upcoming parade. In light of all this, the claim some in 
Canada make that "the Palestine/Israel conflict has nothing to do 
with the queer struggle" is further deflated every day.

So it seems that while LGBT people in Palestine have begun speaking 
out both for themselves and for their people as a whole, LGBT 
activists in the West are starting to realize they cannot allow their 
struggles to be co-opted by Israel's colonization schemes. And here 
in Toronto, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid will not be silenced. 
QuAIA will march in this year's Pride Parade this Sunday, 4 July, and 
our demand for justice for all Palestinians, queer and straight 
alike, will be voiced.

Savannah Garmon is an activist for transgender rights, sex worker 
rights and has been active with various groups in the Palestine 
solidarity movement since 2002. She will proudly carry a sign in 
Toronto's upcoming Pride Parade reading "This trans woman is against 
Israeli apartheid and queerer than you."

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