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'Israeli apartheid' decision heads back to city's executive committee

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'Israeli apartheid' decision heads back to city's executive committee

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Why single out Pride when TIFF & the AGO also host 'Israeli apartheid' events, ask activists
City of Toronto staff have once again determined that the use of the term “Israeli apartheid” is not a criminal offence and does not contravene any city policy.

Three staff reports about the matter will head to executive committee on April 23. Many city councillors and community groups hope this finally puts to rest a three-year censorship battle that has annually put funding for Pride Toronto in danger.

But the decision doesn’t just affect Pride, reminds Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) member Tim McCaskell, who is encouraging Torontonians to write letters or get on the list to make deputations to the executive committee.

QuAIA recently partnered with two of the other 10 major cultural organizations that receive City of Toronto money: the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF and QuAIA hosted renowned lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer in April at the AGO and the TIFF Lightbox on King Street. Hammer screened her film Witness: Palestine at the AGO's Jackman Hall on April 5 as part of the Images Festival. McCaskell says Hammer and others used the phrase “Israeli apartheid” several times over the course of the festival, yet he's heard no official calls to cut funding to TIFF or the AGO.


It's unfair to target Pride, McCaskell says. “How can council try to make funding for Pride contingent on no one uttering the words ‘Israeli apartheid’ when it doesn’t make the same restrictions on the AGO or on TIFF?

“Here was a situation where a distinguished artist, in her opening remarks, said ‘Israeli apartheid,’ then two nights later at the AGO, she said those words again.”

Caitlin Coull, manager of communications for the AGO, declined to comment but states in an email that "the AGO is proud to be a community partner of the Images Festival, and we don’t dictate the content that is shown as part of the Festival." TIFF staff also declined to comment until after council has come to a decision on the matter.

Councillor James Pasternak, who asked the city last year to withhold Pride’s $123,807 cultural grant if QuAIA participates in Pride, says there is a difference between QuAIA's participation in Pride and the events at the AGO and TIFF.


“There’s a big difference between a small closed-door event, and a big cultural event that attracts a million people, which has essentially been hijacked by this group,” he says.

But Councillor Paula Fletcher says Pasternak’s logic is faulty and hypocritical. She says city rules must be applied evenly across the board, noting that the size of an event, and how many spectators it attracts, should not make any difference.

“That’s actually incorrect of Councillor Pasternak,” Fletcher says. “If something is illegal, it’s illegal. If something is accepted, it’s accepted everywhere. It makes no difference how many people see or hear it. Councillor Pasternak feels very strongly about this, and his community feels strongly about this . . . But if something is not considered hate speech, we have to learn to accept it, even if we don’t like it.”

Nick Mulé, co-chair of Queer Ontario, who plans to depute at executive committee, agrees with Fletcher and says Pasternak's position is "flawed."

“It’s very problematic,” he says. “[Pasternak] also asserts that people with religious beliefs are automatically right if they are offended, and we have to listen to them. That just totally dismisses all other viewpoints. It feels like he’s just making up the rules as he goes along.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Gord Perks says the latest staff reports make the rules abundantly clear: censoring political speech — regardless of the venue — puts the city in a legally precarious position. “I’m glad that city staff continues to inform council that it would be illegal of us to forbid an organization like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to take part in any event. I’m glad they continue to point that out.”

Perks says the report on the city’s grants policy states that funding should not be contingent on the use of the words "Israeli apartheid." The report’s author, Chris Brillinger, executive director of social development, finance and administration, says Pride has complied with all city conditions and relevant policies, including the establishment of a dispute-resolution process. He says the city should not put any special conditions or restrictions on Pride.

“We have an obligation to protect freedom of speech and expression of Torontonians,” Perks says. “As someone who has been an activist, organized protests against all kinds of destructive and oppressive government actions, the worst thing we could ever do is restrict people’s right to complain about the actions of a government.”

Still, Brillinger says, there is a need for a broader discussion about “conflicting interests,” such as the emotional debate that surrounds the term “Israeli apartheid.”

“[Saying] the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ is not a criminal act. That would require a charge, or a complaint, and a process. In our eyes, there has not been discrimination,” he says. “Nevertheless, it’s clear that the term is extremely hurtful for many residents of the city of Toronto. It is important to respect the fact that others find it hurtful.”


“It’s time to get out of this debate about whether the phrase is hate, discriminatory or free speech. It is hurtful for some people. It’s worthy of attention.”

The second report proposes amendments to the city’s anti-discrimination policy, which all recipients of city funding must follow. None of the proposed amendments mention "Israeli apartheid." The third report is from the city solicitor and is not being released publicly. It addresses legal issues with regard to “litigation or potential litigation affecting the City of Toronto,” which is why it is confidential, Brillinger says.

The report references the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal ruling against Bill Whatcott, a self-described Christian activist who distributed flyers targeting gay and lesbian Canadians.

Councillor Adam Vaughan says the city solicitor report advises that complaints of a legal nature must now be directed to the Human Rights Tribunal, which has the mandate and the authority to decide on cases of discrimination. It’s a recommendation city staff also made last year.

“[The reports are] very clear, and this issue should now be resolved,” he says. “This is one of those situations where we were being asked to do something that we don’t actually have the power to do. If people are concerned that the Criminal Code is being violated and human rights are being infringed upon, there are tribunals and courts to pursue those interests.”

But Pasternak says he is not prepared to let the issue drop. He still wants Pride Toronto to ban QuAIA from marching in the Pride parade. He says Pride has the authority to deny any group from participating, and he’s confident the mayor’s executive committee will agree. “The Pride parade is not a political demonstration,” he says.

Pasternak references a recent “disturbing” letter distributed to city councillors by Pride's co-chairs. It expresses support for the dispute-resolution panel's 2012 decision.


“Basically, it says that the philosophy of QuAIA and Pride are quite similar and carry the same messaging. I have spoke to colleagues who are astounded the chairs would release such a letter and actually endorse QuAIA,” he says. “So, that’s changed things. It’s a real problem. Up to now, Pride has always argued that ‘we don’t agree with their message, but we can’t stop them.’ Now they are saying there is very little difference between Pride and QuAIA. That’s a major step backwards. And it has upped the ante.

“Pride is a cultural event that includes a street protest group. There’s no reason that QuAIA can’t go protest on their own. The problem is that city funds cannot be used for street protests, which come with demonization, bullying and harassment,” Pasternak says. 

Francisco Alvarez, co-chair of Pride Toronto, says Pasternak is completely wrong in his interpretation of the letter (see below). “That is just not true,” he says. “We do not hold any view with regard to the Israel/Palestine conflict at all. We simply provide a platform for groups that are organized within our community to express their views, as long as they conform with the laws of the land.

“It sounds to me that, since we won’t reject QuAIA, [Pasternak] is making a link that we are supporting their perspective. We support them as a community group. We support other groups as well.”

Of the city’s executive committee members, only Frank Di Giorgio responded to Xtra’s request for comment. He sees the situation as one of “competing rights.”

“The message that [QuAIA] sends out -- it’s not so much about using a phrase,” he says. “I think it needs to be looked at. It’s a matter of interpretation as well. There’s freedom of expression. You have a right to express an opinion, but you can’t in the process try and impose your opinion on someone else.

“I believe in protecting rights, but I draw the line when you start protecting one right that infringes on another right. Then you have to look at it in closer detail.”

Despite the latest reports, DiGeorgio says the city should continue to scrutinize participants in the Pride parade. “I suspect we will try and use sanctions if we have to, like, for example, not providing funding if they don’t fall in line.”

If that’s the case, activists are vowing to continue their fight. Singling out Pride for scrutiny and continuing to threaten funding seems to indicate homophobia, McCaskell says, noting QuAIA members do not attempt to impose their opinions on anyone. “If council only requires this stipulation for Pride, clearly it’s because of the sexual orientation of the people involved. It’s the only reason I can see.”

Queer Ontario’s Mulé says councillors like Di Giorgio and Pasternak are more interested in censorship than protecting rights. It’s also inaccurate to call the issue one of “competing rights," he says, because the right to religious freedom doesn’t mean freedom from other people’s opinions.

“They are trying to shut down dialogue and infringe on freedom of expression,” he says. “QuAIA is not a people-hating group. Their message is a critical analysis of political policy. If we don’t have the freedom to critique policy, then we are really in trouble as a society.”
 

Pride Toronto Letter to city councillors on anti-discrimination policy amendments re: QuAIA by Andrea Houston

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Comments

Apartheid?? What a joke.
If Israel is guilty of "apartheid", it's in much the same way that people who lock their doors are discriminating unfairly against thieves and rapists.

Anyone who has ever lived in Israel, as I have, knows that some measures have been forced upon the country by the unfortunate tendency of so many supporters of the mythical land they call "Palestine" to climb on city buses or walk into restaurants and bus stations carrying explosives, which they then detonate, killing innocent men, women, and children.

Those who claim Israel is "pinkwashing" are deliberately turning a blind eye to the appalling human rights records of virtually every Muslim state, especially as regards GLBT citizens. You may not like some of the things Israel is being forced to do -- but what are gay rights like in the land they call "Palestine"? Or do they have any? How about in Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Libya, or Yemen? Israel is a shining beacon, compared to the rest of the benighted Middle East, and don't ever forget it!
The great irony of the tedious ongoing QuAIA drama
is that is isn't even primarily about Israel's treatment of Palestinians, an issue that has been pushed to the bottom of the agenda. It's about the 'free speech rights' of a bunch of highly educated white people and their 'constitutional rights'. The most delicious part is this: look up the principals of QuAIA and all those Pride medal recipients who Marlon Brandoed their awards over the free speech issue, and then check the petition against Margaret Somerville being given an honourary doctorate by Ryerson. Somerville's logic - that gay marriage would damage children - was twisted, but it was a stretch to call her a homophobe (I know longer know what that means) and the comments written were very revealing about the contingent commitment to free speech by some of these fair weather friends of free expression.
Only in Toronto
Is there any other gay community in the entire world where this issue has arisen?
Thanks to the commenter right above
I will check out those documentaries.
Queers Against Queerpartheid
Great point Farah! For the Queer cult QuAIA to single out and falsely accuse Israel of the apartheid atrocities happening in other countries reveals how much they are bent on twisting facts for political purposes. These spin doctors do absolutely nothing for LGBT Palestinians who face gender and sexual apartheid, and so-called "honor killings" from the hellbent ideology of the Anti-Semitism, homophobic Palestinian Islamist Organization known as Hamas. The radical Islamist theocracy of Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the Anti-Terrorism Act here in Canada and many other countries. Hamas is the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood and unwilling to recognize Israel's right to exist, Hamas sees holy war as the religious duty of every Muslim, as there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. I believe QuAIA is a front group and that its the long arm of the same ideology of hate that promotes Jihad in its many different forms and leftist here in the West are too blind to realize it. For the simple fact QuAIA is not concerned about the atrocsities queer Palestinians face from Hamas, along with the cultural, religious, and political persecution LGBTs face in the Middle-East and the surrounding countries you mention in your post is shinning evidence that Anti-Semitism is what's fueling supporters of QuAIA. "Reclaiming Our Pride" and "Why Is It Hate" are good documentaries exposing QuAIA www.reclaimingourpride.ca
What do they do?
Ben asks "What does the QuAIA even do?" They make trust-fund funded hipsters and tenured academics feel like they are good people because they, like you said, managed to divide queers here in Toronto, and stood up to rail against a country across the planet that doesn't really threaten them in any way. See how good they are? Rabbled on about Israel. Liberal white guilt placated!
What does the QuAIA even do?
To help LGBT Palestinians? Nothing! Nothing in demanding Fatah or Hamas to give equality to LGBT Palestinians, nothing in helping them get equal rights in the State of Palestine. Nothing at all in helping them to become equals in their own society. They just managed to divided the LGBT community here, try to shut down free speech such as any Israeli event LGBT or not( Anything that upsets their world view). Harass artists who preform in Israel such as Tim McCaskell who I seen many times doing this. They are just a BDS cult, the one Norman Finkelstein views BDS overall.
pot kettle beige
stop the fake comments, what is a fake comment? All these comments are real. the names are anonymous for many reasons. What is yours?
Efforts to 'stifle' only serves to stimulate
"But Pasternak says ... The Pride parade is not a political demonstration".
Really?
So says a non-member of the LGBTQ community. Maybe that's the real problem...'Outsiders' defining what PRIDE is or isn't.

The Pride Parade may be a 'celebration' of 'queerness', but it will also always be political!
As long as there are those who would prefer all LGBTQ folk to 'behave' and stay outta sight, it will be necessary for the LGBTQ communities to stand up, speak up and take up public space.

The phrase "Israeli Apartheid" is a critical & political comment of the state of Israel's internal policies towards Palestinians. Whether you agree with this criticism or not, is your personal choice.

Banning criticism of any gov't's policies brings us one step closer to "1984" becoming reality.

The more people spend energy on trying to silence the group QUAIA, the more I think there might be something in what they're saying.

If QUAIA's criticism or use of the phrase is invalid, why not just highlight where & how the phrase is inaccurate? Done!

But attempting to 'silence' criticism or commentary only gives it additional power, and therefore a louder voice.

And so this merry-go-round of the City threatening PT funding continues...
TTT and Farah Farah Farah!
TTT we all know your comment is a fake and Farah Farah Farah! you sound a lot like a RT from London, Ontario. We see the QuAIA making things up again, even comments.

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