Some phrases in this story have been altered in order to be more precise in describing B’nai Brith’s focus on QuAIA.
The group of people working to censor Pride Toronto is growing. Anti-gay evangelical Christians have teamed up with the pro-Israel lobby and the group is turning its attention to WorldPride, potentially threatening city funding for the event.
Last month, councillor James Pasternak warned that if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) marches, funding for WorldPride will be at risk.
Meanwhile, Frank Dimant, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada and professor of Israeli studies at Charles McVety’s Canada Christian College, confirms to Xtra that he has been actively lobbying Toronto councillors to censor Pride Toronto because it allows QuAIA to participate.
“We are very consistent that the Pride event should not introduce hate and hate speech. Saying ‘apartheid’ is anti-Semitic; it’s vile. It has no place in an event that is supposed to be a joyous celebration,” Dimant tells Xtra.
“The gay parade was initially conceived as a celebration. I don’t think it should be politicized. Everyone concurs: it is a celebration.”
Councillors voted last month to grant funding for Pride Toronto but deferred a vote on the city’s anti-discrimination policy to July 16.
At the time, Xtra obtained an email that was sent to some councillors after the May executive committee meeting, stating that the issue is of growing concern to "fundamentalist Christians." The email was sent by EthicScan — a Toronto-based company whose website says it has a mission to "help organizations and individuals behave more ethically."
Dimant, who received an honorary doctorate from Canada Christian College, says fundamentalist Christians have long been allies with the pro-Israel lobby.
“Fundamentalist Christians recognize that Israel is not an apartheid state,” he says. “They recognize that this is part of the propaganda machine against the Jewish state, and therefore they are concerned.”
However, for the past two years the city manager has determined that PT does not contravene city policy and that any further complaints should be directed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In April, three new city staff reports determined, once again, that the use of the term "Israeli apartheid" at city-funded events is not a criminal offence and does not contravene any city policy.
Still, Dimant says, the phrase should be censored because it is “offensive” to some.
“Okay, so it’s not criminal [hate speech],” he admits. “But it’s offensive and it’s despicable. I certainly don’t want taxpayers' money to go to support any kind of endeavour that allows this travesty to continue.”
While B'nai Brith maintains it's not looking to defund Pride Toronto, those councillors actively working to censor Pride consistently threaten the organization's city funding.
Marci McDonald is a Canadian journalist and the author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada. She says Dimant represents the far right of the Jewish community.
“He was the lynchpin in Canada uniting the Jewish community's interest in cultivating evangelical Christians as a huge weight of influence to give Jewish concerns more weight politically,” she says.
In recent years, McVety has opposed every piece of human rights legislation for queer people, including the Accepting Schools Act and gay-straight alliances, sexual health education in high schools and trans human rights, at the provincial level with Toby’s Law, and federally with Bill C-279.
“Charles McVety makes no bones about the fact that it was same-sex marriage that propelled him to organize what became the Christian right in Canada,” she says. “That was the nucleus. That was the motivator.”
Unlike McVety, who did not respond to Xtra’s request for comment, Dimant says he is not anti-gay. “You really have to separate the two,” Dimant stresses. “For us, this is about the attempt to de-legitimize Israel. The other issues that Charles is involved in do not play into this whatsoever.”
That may be true, McDonald says. “For him the paramount question is not allowing anything that limits the embrace of Israel in the public mind.”
Members of the Jewish lobby have always maintained they are fighting only to exclude the phrase “Israeli apartheid” from the Pride parade. But McVety’s connection to the QuAIA debate seems to invalidate the Jewish lobby’s position that censoring “Israel apartheid” is its only goal, McDonald says.
“Frank Dimant cannot deny that he has long and deep ties to the evangelical far right, and he has in fact cultivated those ties. It’s because of an interest in Israel, not any kind of intolerance to gay and lesbian people.”
That being said, McDonald says, it doesn’t seem to bother Dimant that McVety holds such hateful views toward gay and lesbian people.
“It may well be true that he differs from Charles McVety on gay rights, but it’s interesting that we’ve never heard his voice objecting when it came to sex education in Ontario schools or GSAs, or the other positions that Charles McVety took,” she says. “He has never separated himself before.”
Councillor Joe Mihevc says he is disturbed to learn that groups with anti-gay positions are connected to pro-Israel lobbying efforts at city hall. “That’s a very disconcerting alliance that has formed,” he says.
Mihevc says he supports Pride. “Pride should be funded. We as a council really don’t have the authority to tell Pride who should be in the parade and who shouldn’t be in the parade. I think it’s time to put this issue to bed.”
In an April 26 interview with Xtra, Councillor Pasternak maintained that Pride funding remains at risk if it allows QuAIA to participate. He has since requested that the debate on the city's anti-discrimination policy be deferred to the July 16.
“We're worried that QuAIA plans to turn WorldPride into an international hate-fest by bringing anti-Israel protesters to the city to hijack the parade. That will be a major embarrassment," he said.
QuAIA once again marched peacefully this year without incident. Pasternak could not be reached for further comment.
Pride Toronto’s executive director, Kevin Beaulieu, says it’s incredibly important that the city continue to support Pride.
“It’s certainly a concern if people carrying homophobic or transphobic messages are lobbying,” he says. “That’s a great concern to us. We have a message that we believe is stronger, and will prevail, and that is that we all belong in this city. We all have a place in this city. And the LGBT communities deserve the support of city council.”