A group of about 35 journalists, politicians and members of Toronto’s Jewish community gathered at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre this morning in reaction against Pride Toronto’s (PT) June 23 decision not to censor the term Israeli apartheid from this year’s Pride celebration.
It was a press conference held by gay lawyer Martin Gladstone and “representatives of the organized Jewish community.” Seated with Gladstone at a long table were representatives from the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and mayoral candidates Rocco Rossi, Giorgio Mammoliti and Rob Ford.
Gladstone said he will resume lobbying Pride’s corporate sponsors, warning them, “You can’t separate the message of a sponsor from what happens in the Pride Parade.”
Mammoliti said he plans to introduce a new motion to city council in a bid to retroactively defund PT. Ford and Rossi said they support that move. But it was Rossi who delivered the strongest rhetoric, firmly denouncing Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) as a hate group.
“I am appalled that one of Toronto’s finest summer festivals has been politicized by a fringe group of people spreading hate,” he said.
Justine Apple of the queer Jewish group Kulanu told Xtra later that she isn’t opposed to policy discussions but that the QuAIA contingent in last year’s parade crossed a line. One marcher wore a T-shirt with a crossed-out Swastika on it.
“Their use of the swastika, whether crossed out or not, is absolutely unacceptable to me,” said Apple. “The minute any Jewish person – any informed person – sees that, you immediately want to leave that parade. It screams hate.”
Although Apple spoke against PT’s announcement, she still encourages members of Toronto’s Jewish community to march with her contingent in the Pride parade next Sunday.
“We want to galvanise as many people as possible to march with us and show our strength in numbers,” she says. “Kulanu promotes inclusivity, diversity, acceptance, tolerance. We feel those values have been removed from the Pride parade and we want to bring them back.”
Meanwhile Elle Flanders, a Jewish member of QuAIA, and a handful of other freedom of expression activists were denied entry to the building. They waited quietly on the sidewalk while the press conference was underway inside. Representatives from Jewish Voice for Peace, the United Jewish People’s Order distributed press material.
“A growing number of Jews in Canada and around the world reject this attempt to avoid serious discussion of Israeli policies,” read one release.
“They won’t answer the question of how our arguments constitute hate speech,” Flanders told Xtra. “If this was hate speech, you’d have to fire half of the Israeli Knesset who talk about Israel apartheid every day… As someone who grew up in Israel, I value my democratic rights and when they sit in there and say you can’t have political speech, it undermines the very democracy they’re promoting in Israel. If you value it there, you have to value it here.”