The various annual Gay Pride celebrations held in urban centres all over the world tend to be inclusive events, stemming from an understanding that, as GLBTQ people, we historically have been well-acquainted with the politics of exclusion and of ‘being beyond the pale’. "Beyond the pale" being apropos here as the phrase refers to what many European centres, most notably in Russia under Catherine the Great, imposed on their Jewish inhabitants. It refers to living outside the established parameters of the city, away from ‘regular’ folk and the safety of being within the city walls.
Which brings us to the possible inclusion of a group known as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in Toronto’s Pride Parade. QuAIA describes itself as "work[ing] in solidarity with queers in Palestine and Palestine solidarity movements around the world...[and that] the struggle for sexual rights cannot come at the price of other rights."
Despite Israel being an oasis of liberal democracy in a region awash in dictatorship and fundamentalist Islamism, QuAIA believes Israel to be an oppressive regime and that it engages in a practice they call "pinkwashing". Their website states,
"...[I]n response to increasing criticism of its occupation of Palestine, Israel is cultivating an image of itself as an oasis of gay tolerance in the Middle East, a practice that is called pinkwashing. As queers, we recognize that homophobia exists in Israel, Palestine, and across all borders.
"Queer Palestinians continue to face the challenge of living under occupation and apartheid, subject to Israeli state violence and control, regardless of liberal laws within Israel that allow gays to serve in the military, or recognize same sex marriage and adoption for Israeli citizens. QuAIA works to fight homophobia, transphobia and gender oppression wherever they exist."
Really? Then why is the organization not called Queers Against Iranian Queer Genocide or Queers Opposed To Syrian State Murder?
QuAIA, along with other misinformed and too often leftist organizations, believes Israel engages in arpartheid when it comes to dealing with Palestinians. Perhaps now would be a good time to declare my biases; I am one of those ‘left-lib’ types so much of conservative mainstream media appear to believe will herald the end of civilization as we know it. I am also pro-Israel.
Israel is not a Utopia on Earth. It has its problems, and I certainly do not agree with every single policy the Knesset puts out. At the same time, however, I believe I understand the history of Zionism and the process of establishing a Jewish homeland during the 19th and 20th Centuries resulting in the settlement of the area now known as the State of Israel.
Prior to that it was, amongst other names, known as "Palestine" but this was never an actual nation. The term "Palestine" was used as a geographical designation to describe the region situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan and has been also been known as Canaan (which the ancient Israelites conquered according to accounts in the Old Testament after Moses led them out of bondage in Eygpt and to the Promised Land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey), Zion, Land of the Philistines, Southern Syria and Syria Palaestina.
Its borders have fluctuated throughout history, depending on which empire held sway over the territory. In modern times, the borders were first defined in 1920 and then again in 1922 during what is known as the Mandate Period - a time when the post-WWI British Empire, in consultation with Arab leaders and Allied forces, was facilitating the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the region.
The term "Palestine" has also been used to refer to the hypothetical State of Palestine as outlined in the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence which lays claim to approximately 22 percent of what is now Israel. The actual existence of such a state is in limbo and not recognized by the United Nations, many western countries, including the US and Canada, or by the state of Israel itself.
What is recognized is the Palestinian Authority, established under Yasser Arafat following the 1993 Oslo peace accords between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. The Palestinian Authority, which includes Gaza and the West Bank, is now itself split into two factions following the election of Hamas, a vehemently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel terrorist organization on one side, and the ‘old guard’ Arafatian Palestinian Authority on the other.
The politics of the region are complex and the above a too-brief overview. However, to claim, as does QuAIA, that Israel engages in apartheid, like the old regime of South Africa did as official policy against the indigenous black African population, is disingenuous at best. Canada could likewise be accused of being an ‘apartheid state’ given our First Nations reservation system, and has been, but we come under nowhere near the level of antipathy Israel faces from various interests. Clearly, then, there is something else afoot when it comes to condemnation of Israel.
Nowhere else in the region of the Middle East do lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transfolk enjoy the rights and safety they do in Israel. Thousands of gay men have been murdered in Iran in public executions. Thousands more live in fear of being beaten, arrested, tortured and killed in Gaza under Hamas, and in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries of the region, most of which subscribe to Sharia law, being gay can result in imprisonment or even execution. Turkey is the only other nation in the region where homosexuality is legal, although Turkey does not recognize GLBTQ rights in civil law or same-sex domestic partnerships, let alone same-sex marriage. The social culture of Turkey, officially a secular nation but predominately Muslim nevertheless, tends to be conservative.
And yet QuAIA goes after Israel. It is a form of Jew-baiting, a modern day type of pogrom all dressed up to appear ‘politically correct’ but is actually little more than good old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
As, I would assume, politically aware and - one would hope - sensitive politico-queers, I would expect QuAIA to have a better and deeper analysis of the issues. Palestinian lesbians and gay men face far more discrimination, prejudice and violence in Gaza than they ever would in Israel. Arab/Palestinian Israelis (and, yes, there are Arabs and Palestinians living in Israel as Israeli citizens, not just Jews) are afforded the full protection of the law in the event their own community turns on them. Such protection is not at all available in any other country or region of the Middle East.
Of course, QuAIA denies their position is anti-Semitic. They cite various Jewish intellectuals, such as Albert Einstein among others, as anti-Zionist - quoting Einstein as saying that Menachim Begin, a key figure in the founding of Israel, was a fascist. QuAIA also believes Israel is based on racial lines, that only Jews hold privilege to the detriment of "indigenous people" (i.e. Arab and what is now known as Palestinian people) and describes Gaza as little more than "an open air prison".
The erection of walls separating Israeli territory from Gaza and the West Bank, and checkpoints that make it difficult, if not nigh impossible, for Palestinians to move freely between Arab towns and Israeli territory is problematic. Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the displacement of non-Jewish residents, are issues I have difficulty with. At the same time I recognize such issues are far more complex than they may appear and ‘outsiders’ not familiar with the realities of the region often come to misinformed conclusions.
The one reality I am aware of is that Israel faces daily bombardment of civilian enclaves, suicide bombings, and threats against its existence as a nation, with that bombardment often being launched not only from southern Lebanon but from within Gaza itself. An argument can be made that Israel, by building walls and ‘controlling’ Gazans is in fact protecting itself and its citizens. That is its right as a nation under threat. Israel is in a constant state of high alert. It has to be when there are constant threats to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’.
The other reality is that it has been Israel who has, on more than one occasion, attempted to reach a mutually satisfactory solution that would allow for the existence of Israel and the existence of a Palestinian territory, a sort of ‘bi-national’ construct. These overtures have been consistently rejected by Palestinian interests.
QuAIA is, of course, within its rights to believe whatever its members wish and, in a liberal democracy like Canada, also free to say whatever it believes to be true.
Their possible inclusion in a Gay Pride parade is somewhat more problematic. As a gay group, of course they should be included. No one questions that, I shouldn’t think. The issue is their position on Israel or perhaps more correctly their position on Jewish occupation of formerly Arab land. One simply cannot separate the concept of "Israel" from the reality of "Jew" and the complex history of the Jewish people. It is my belief modern day Israel is the Jewish homeland to which the world’s Jews have returned after a Diaspora that lasted for centuries. QuAIA doesn’t. And that’s fine.
The question then is, does this issue have any place in a Gay Pride celebration? The same question could be asked of any group whose mandate goes beyond "GLBTQ". If this was a group of GLBTQ Palestinians, I would not have an issue over their inclusion so long as the focus of the group was on being queer and Palestinian, for instance, and not on the issues they may have towards Israel.
Likewise, an organization like Kulanu, a group for GLBTQ Jews, should be included not because they hold any particular position on Israel but because they offer a social network for GLBTQ Jews that honours and respects both the members’ Jewishness as well as their orientation. To use the platform of a Pride parade to promote an unrelated political agenda, whatever it may be, strikes me as - I’m not sure what the term would be - inappropriate? Pride parades are grounded in political expression. That is the origin of these parades. So having a political agenda is not the issue so long as it is a queer political issue even though Pride parades have long ceased to be "political" in any sort of specific sense. QuAIA’s mandate is not about being GLBTQ; it is about having a position on Israeli policy and, as such, has little/nothing to do with being queer or with queer politics.
QuAIA has been denied involvement in Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade before and their application to be included in this year’s celebration is currently before a review board. This process has created controversy over how binding any decision would be. If the board denies QuAIA’s application and the organization shows up anyway, who can legally enforce their eviction? It becomes a civil matter involving the police...and probably a significant delay to the start of what should be a celebratory event for our community. If the permit is accepted what, if any, conflict might arise from the presence of QuAIA and, say, Kulanu in the same event? Or between QuAIA and any other group or individuals offended by their anti-Israel position? These are important questions that must be considered by any Pride committee.