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“Strange bedfellows” in the Israeli apartheid debate

B'nai Brith speaks at event organized by anti-gay activist Charles McVety

Screencap of G20.ca

UPDATE: Pride Toronto has rescinded its ban on “Israeli apartheid” – read more here.

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Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith commended Pride Toronto on May 14 for its decision to prevent activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from marching in the Pride parade under the “Israeli apartheid” banner. In its press release, B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice-president Frank Dimant wrote, “The Pride parade is about diversity and promoting human rights. Issues that clearly do not mesh with the hateful messaging and anti-Semitism we have witnessed from QuAIA in past years.”

But amidst the debate over whether calling Gaza policies “Israeli apartheid” is actually anti-Semitic, Dimant apparently has no issue meshing with the hateful messaging of Toronto Sun columnist Michael Coren, who described the Pride parade in his May 29 column as “an event where there is illegal public nudity and simulated sex, where men dress up as nuns and abuse the church and where morbidly obese lesbians pull other women around on chains. Surely it doesn’t matter very much if a gang of activists try to provoke mom and dad yet again by telling everybody how nasty the Jews are.”

Coren and Dimant will both speak at a “G20 Summit for Faith and Business Leaders” from June 25-27, an event organized by anti-gay activist Charles McVety, who recently torpedoed an attempt to introduce a new sex-ed curriculum in Ontario schools.

With Dimant away in Israel at a conference, B’nai Brith Canada’s communications officer, Dan Rabkin, insists that Dimant’s working relationship with McVety doesn’t equal his agreement.

“Frank is the head of a department at Canada Christian College. He teaches there on Judaism, and he and Charles have had a long relationship,” Rabkin says. “They’re both outspoken Zionists, and that’s where they come together on issues, but in terms of all of Charles’ other advocacy on social issues — gay issues, abortion, etc — we have nothing to do with any of that.”

“The problem at the core of all this,” says queer activist Justin Stayshyn, “is that there’s no understanding or recognition at all of homophobia.” B’nai Brith, he says, is happy to partner with three organizations “offensive to gay people, and it’s ridiculous to see McVety speak to issues of anti-Semitism when he is clearly a homophobe.”

Rabkin insists that B’nai Brith’s involvement in McVety’s conference only extends to issues of Iranian nuclear potential, but Elle Flanders, who is both Jewish and a member of QuAIA, asks, “What was the excuse for the pairing the time before that?” The Iran threat, she says, “has been the Israel media’s spin and focus since the massacre in Gaza.”

In the wake of the deadly May 31 Israeli raid on a flotilla of ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, tempers have run hot. Both US journalist Helen Thomas and NDP Vancouver East MP Libby Davies have been widely condemned for their blunt, if clumsy, criticisms of Israel, but an editorial in The Province newspaper linked Davies’ comments to being “an extremely left-wing, outspoken, lesbian woman.”

On its Twitter feed, the Canada-Israel Committee summed it up this way: “Province ed reminds Libby mouthy lesbians aren’t wanted in Gaza,” but they apologized after Stayshyn and other activists reacted. B’nai Brith had condemned Davies’ comments, but Rabkin is quick to point out, “We don’t use that kind of language. This editorial and the kind of language used, it has nothing to do with us.”

“The fact that the CIC has stooped to homophobic slurs,” says Flanders, “reaffirms my contention that the groups that have stood behind Martin Gladstone, and the lobbying effort they generated, not only make for strange bedfellows but point to the compromises and political vacuousness of those in the queer community who pushed for this ban…. These people are seriously scary — both the queers who have sold out to the right-wing homophobes in exchange for their stance on Israel and of course the homophobes themselves.”

“Just once,” says Stayshyn, “I’d like to see the Israel lobby concede the point that homophobia exists outside of Muslim countries, instead of using the fact that they have gay marriage to excuse the occupation. The way they use us is exploitative and cynical.”

Given the fact that StatsCan this year reported a rise in hate crimes against both gay people and Jews, Flanders is frustrated by how Dimant, Coren and Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who threatened Pride Toronto’s funding in the first place, all refer to her protest group as “anti-Israel” instead of “anti-apartheid,” while B’nai Brith cozies up to Charles McVety. Stayshyn says, “It’s doubly frustrating to see Jewish people pair up with people who hate us. I wish their sensitivity also extended to our experience.”

In his press release, Dimant wrote, “The goal of Pride Toronto is clearly to promote human rights and diversity, values Canadians hold dear. Regretfully, this goal is in danger of being subverted in the worst way.” It’s doubtful he’ll hear his own words at McVety’s G20 event.