5 min

QuAIA complaint triggers legal dispute panel

Group may still march in Pride parade: lawyer

Kulanu's Justine Apple at city council last week. Credit: Andrea Houston

A gay and lesbian Jewish group has filed a formal complaint about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) to the Pride Toronto (PT) dispute resolution panel.

Justine Apple, executive director of Kulanu, states in her June 8 complaint that QuAIA’s “behaviour and rhetoric are hurtful to Jewish parade participants and to supporters of Israel.”

Kulanu’s complaint also notes, “The message Queers Against Israeli Apartheid present in its name, messaging, and signage, is that Israel is an apartheid state. This characterization is contrary to the undertaking required by Pride Toronto in that QuAIA presents images that condone or may condone negative stereotypes against persons or groups. QuAIA’s messages are divisive and damaging to both the parade and the city of Toronto.

“Jewish members of the LGBT community reported to CAP (the Community Advisory Panel) in 2011 that they considered the linking of Apartheid and Israel to be ‘false,’ ‘offensive,’ ‘provocative,’ ‘inflammatory’ and made them feel ‘unwelcome’ and ‘fearful for their safety.’”

It’s the first complaint of its kind to come before the dispute resolution committee.

The dispute resolution process was implemented following a recommendation that came out of a series of meetings held by the community advisory panel, CAP, which were called after a bitter three-year public fight over QuAIA’s participation in Pride. PT describes the dispute process as an arm’s-length legal arbitration panel for anyone who wishes to complain about any group marching in the parade. The decision of the panel is meant to be final.

Lawyer Doug Elliott, who is leading the dispute resolution process, says QuAIA has one week to respond and indicate whether it plans to participate in the process.

“This is a legal process of interpretation,” Elliott says. “The decision will be based on legal arguments about what the rules mean in the context of this complaint . . . The complaint is against QuAIA, not Pride Toronto.”

The panel will be made up of three local legal experts. QuAIA will be permitted to nominate up to three names for one spot on the panel. The complaint form states that Kulanu has nominated Elliott and Toronto lawyer Andrew Pinto.

One panel member is already confirmed: Toronto lawyer Robert G Coates will serve as chair.

Since Kulanu’s complaint is mainly about QuAIA’s signs and messaging, Elliott explains, the panel may only make a decision based on that. “So that may not preclude the group from marching. It may just preclude them from having that kind of sign.”

Last week, Toronto city council approved a motion to “condemn” the phrase “Israeli apartheid.” Elliott says it will be up to the panel to determine if the city’s decision will factor in to the final ruling.

“Because it’s a legal process, [the city’s condemnation] would go into the category of evidence, as opposed to a legal ruling,” he says. “A decision by city council is not a judicial ruling. It’s the opinion of city council.”

The motion by city council contradicts a report by the city manager released last year confirming the phrase “Israeli apartheid” – and by extension QuAIA’s participation in Pride celebrations – does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, which all beneficiaries of city funds must agree to.

Elliott says the city policy may be submitted to the dispute panel as evidence.

“That’s halfway between evidence and law,” he explains. “The city manager was not exercising a judicial function when he expressed that opinion. It’s not a binding ruling by any stretch. It could be considered by the panel, but that will be up to them.”

The city’s anti-discrimination policy returns to executive committee in September and is expected to contain changes with regard to the phrase “Israeli apartheid.” Council will not approve the updated version until it meets in October.

Apple says she applauds city council for condemning the phrase “Israeli apartheid,” adding that QuAIA “is hijacking the parade with anti-Israel propaganda.”

“Their hateful, discriminatory messaging alienates the people of Toronto and has no place in a parade that celebrates inclusion, tolerance and diversity,” she says.

PT executive director Kevin Beaulieu says the board will be watching the process closely but will not have any involvement. “We will continue planning for a successful 2012 festival.”

QuAIA spokesperson Tony Souza says he is confident in the dispute process.

QuAIA has never preached hatred. We are just stating a fact,” he says. “We are not anti-Semitic. We work for justice, peace and equality for Palestinian queers. The fact remains that Palestinian queers do not have the same rights. Apartheid means separate. [Palestinian queers] have a separate identity and rights within Israel, and that’s our message.

“If people are uncomfortable with that message, and see it as offensive, that’s different than saying it’s a message of hate. Those are two totally different things.”

Assam Alyamani, a representative with Palestine House in Mississisauga, says the term “Israeli apartheid” is an accurate criticism of the Israeli government’s policy in regard to the Palestinian Territories.

“It is well documented that the Israeli government discriminates against indigenous people,” he says. “There are different rules for Jewish and non-Jewish people in many aspects, such as services, budgets, [policies] within municipalities, occupations and laws. They evacuate indigenous people from their villages and towns. There are many facts that support the argument that Israel is an apartheid state.”

At a 2010 conference, Jonathan Cook, a journalist and the author of Disappearing Palestine, explained why the phrase accurately describes the political situation in the West Bank.

“There are at least 30 laws that explicitly discriminate between Jews and non-Jews,” he said. “They live in entirely separate physical worlds. They live in separate physical communities, separated not through choice, but through legally enforceable rules and procedures.” 

Former US president Jimmy Carter, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner, also called Israel an “apartheid state” in 2006.

“When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200 or so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa.”

Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has said the situation in Israel very much resembles South Africa when it was an apartheid state. “If you change the names, the description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would be a description of what is happening in South Africa.”

The Israeli human rights group B’tselem reached the same conclusion in a 2002 report, noting “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime . . . is reminiscent of . . . the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

How long the dispute process will take is unknown at this point, Elliott says. “From our perspective, we understand it’s important for everyone concerned to get this resolved as expeditiously as possible, and we will do everything we can to achieve a resolution that’s consistent with a fair process.”

There is no guarantee that a decision will come in time for the 2012 Pride festival. “It’s possible,” he says. PT has already stated that if a decision is not reached before the parade, QuAIA will still be allowed to march.
Kulan u Complaint Redacted