[News] Queers Against Israeli Apartheid refuse to be silenced
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
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."
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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