Here we go again. I’m somewhat ambivalent about writing once more on the topic of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) and those who would ban them from marching in the Pride parade. It is the story that never dies. Yet for those of us who follow it, there are so many layers of absurdity that it’s too tempting to pass up.
Councillor James Pasternak has pitched the idea of offering Pride Toronto a “diversity bonus” if it bans QuAIA from its parades. Why just Pride? I’d be willing to bet that Xtra and other media houses might consider banning these words from the printed page for a small injection of Pasternak’s “diversity” cash.
Are Toronto councillors Pasternak and David Shiner secret members of QuAIA? On its own, QuAIA organizes a smattering of events throughout the year. This includes film screenings and talks (like the Barbara Hammer discussion it recently convened with the help of the Toronto International Film Festival and the Art Gallery of Ontario). The group also marches in the parades that occur during Pride weekend.
But with the help of Pasternak and Shiner, QuAIA is able to punch well above its weight, ensuring the words “Israeli apartheid” remain in the media — and in the minds of curious Torontonians — throughout the year. The councillors have been more successful local champions of the Palestinian fight for justice than most other Toronto human rights activists or politicians working to further their cause (with apologies to those who devote much of their lives to this worthy campaign).
Had these two not resurrected this issue year in and year out, many Torontonians (including countless in the queer community) would have remained ignorant about the sorry state of affairs in the Middle East. I would have no reason to remind Xtra readers that the words “Israeli apartheid” are frequently uttered in Israel itself. In fact, a recent poll by Israel’s Dialog polling group found that a majority of Israeli Jews now believe Israel practises “apartheid” against the Palestinians.
Thanks to the antics of Pasternak and Shiner, Toronto filmmaker Elle Flanders was provided space to depute on behalf of QuAIA at council’s April 23 executive committee meeting, sharing her personal experiences of travelling on segregated roads in the West Bank. “We made a film about these roads that screened at TIFF in 2011,” said Flanders. “Yes, a film about the apartheid roads that thousands of people saw at TIFF. You cannot single out Pride, Councillor Pasternak.”
But that’s just it, isn’t it? This quixotic council crusade is rooted in homophobia — Pride is being singled out because a group of bigots has discovered an in. What else can we conclude when we know that QuAIA has worked hand in hand with other city-funded arts and culture organizations?
Pasternak and other Pride- and QuAIA-haters may argue that Pride is different because it’s a public event. They’re wrong. Pride provides a space in its parade for a handful of QuAIA marchers just as TIFF provides a venue for QuAIA to screen a film — also open to the public. In related empty-headedness, B’nai Brith’s Anita Bromberg joined Pasternak recently to make the bizarre claim that Pride’s core purpose is to be a citywide celebration, not a political demonstration.
Pride is political and it always will be. If it’s now a citywide celebration, that’s wonderful because it means it’s had some impact and the fight for gay rights has made some headway here in Toronto. Well done, gays! It’s even more reason for council to cough up money for an annual event that brings hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars into our city. But Pride will exist with or without city funding, and I suspect it will continue to allow anyone to march in its parades. Folks like Pasternak and his pals at the Consulate General of Israel remind us of the very reason Pride must remain political. Just as they’ve reminded Torontonians time and again of the important fight for Palestinian justice.
Danny Glenwright is Xtra’s assignment editor.