In an interview with Xtra earlier this week, writer and activist David Demchuk argued “Pride as an event — particularly the parade — has a tradition of politics and progressivism,” and defended the group Queers Against Israel Apartheid (QuAIA) for using a label deliberately chosen to provoke and create debate.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) didn’t see it that way, insisting that QuAIA’s participation in the Pride parade amounts to “the incitement to hatred against Jews” and they, along with other Jewish groups, implored Pride Toronto to ban all such messaging.
But like a leaf in the wind, Pride Toronto quickly found itself buffeted between these demands for censorship and the outcry from artists and activists dedicated to free expression. As playwright Brad Fraser argued, “The very idea of the march itself is a political one, and if we start censoring messages, where do we stop?”
With that in mind, Xtra approached FSWC president and CEO, Avi Benlolo. Initially, FSWC commended Pride Toronto for moving to vet all signage, but a March 12 press release demands “a strong and clear statement… by Pride Toronto condemning the participation of anti-Israel hate groups and messages in the parade.”
Benlolo insists that criticism of Israel is the first step towards violence against Jewish people, so, in a respectful, lively debate, I quizzed him about FSWC’s assertion that “it remains to be seen whether or not Jewish gay rights activists will be welcomed at a joyous celebration of gay pride, or intimidated by anti-Semitic thugs hiding behind the banner of human rights.”
Listen to Scott Dagostino’s chat with Avi Benlolo here: