Thursday, May 27, 2010

Toronto Pride and the term Israeli Apartheid

I just found out that the directors of Toronto's Pride Parade have banned the use of the term "Israeli Apartheid" at this year's parade. This is aimed at the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), which has been involved in the Pride Parade for several years. I think that it is interesting that Pride, a group that is all about inclusion (so much so that their theme is "you belong") is taking it upon themselves to censor a group who is making a political message that I think can be compared to the statement that Pride was making when they began 30 years ago.

Their argument is that some people believe that the name is discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli. I am by no means an expert on the topic of Israeli Apartheid (according to my spell check, I hardly know how to spell it), but I would like to make a few comments on this anyway.... and anyone with more knowledge who wishes to add/clarify/correct something is more than welcome to comment.

Let's start this very simply... from wiki, the crime of apartheid is "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." United Nations reports seem to consistently show that the current regime is comparable to apartheid in South Africa (see here)

This is not anti-semitic. Antisemitism defined (again using wikipedia, which may not be the most reliable source, but I believe is useful for this purpose) is prejudice against or hostility towards jews, often rooted in hatred of their ethnic background, culture and/or religion. I don't understand how being opposed to the oppression of a group of people based on their race/ethnicity can be confused with hostility towards a different group, some of whom happen to be part of the dominant group in one particular country.

I can only think of two explanations. First, is ignorance. Those who are confusing the term "Isreali apartheid" with antisemite do not understand the meaning of these terms or the living conditions of Palestinians in Israel. But the politicians do understand this, as do the organizers of Toronto Pride, I am sure.

The other explanation is financial. The current Israeli regime is backed by the American government. Just two months previous to this decision, the Ontario legislature passed a resolution condemning Israeli Apartheid week, which is held at several universities. Last month, the federal government withdrew $400,000 in funding for Toronto Pride, a decision that is rumored to be connected to QuAIA. Now, the Toronto mayoral candidate motioned to deny funding to the parade if QuAIA is allowed to participate, on the grounds that it would be in breach of the city's anti-discrimination policy. Directors at Pride were concerned about the risk of losing this funding.

Queer Ontario founder and spokesperson Nick Mulé states
It appears Pride Toronto has opted to appease some City officials applying pressure based on misinformation regarding QuAIA and the use of the term ‘Israeli apartheid’, rather than work directly with the community in educating the City to develop a nuanced understanding of the human rights and discrimination issues at play.

I have heard it argued that Israeli Apartheid isn't a Pride issue, as it is not directly connected to sexuality or heterosexism. This argument is used to keep leftist movements separate, which means that they are containable. When organizers at Pride are separated from those at QuAIA, which are separated from feminist organizing and from socialism, it keeps special interest groups small enough that they cannot disrupt the status quo. I would like to applaud QuAIA for becoming involved with both groups, for building that coalition, as I believe it is only through these coalitions that change can occur.


  1. I think it would be prudent to check the conditions in which the UN reports you refer to were created. I seem to remember that at least recently, during the UN Durban conferences, the Iranian president would come out, make some disgustingly antisemite comments, representants of most Western countries would decide to boycott the rest of the conference, and those who are not offended by antisemite comments would stay and write the report.

  2. That would be an interesting thing to look at, but if the reports are even remotely based on the actual living conditions of Palestinians, then I don't how much of a difference it makes that certain countries may or may not have left. However, I do think ti is odd that Western countries would boycott the conference due to a few comments by someone that is known for being offensive... I wish I could leave class everytime a student was particularly offensive, even those who are repeatedly sexist, racist, or belligerent.

    After doing some research, some news articles on the UN's conference on racism point to the comments made by the Iranian president as the reason for the boycott, but others state that the US, Canada, and Israel simply refused to participate in the UN conference on racism until Israel was removed from the agenda (not until the Iranian president left) because talking about Israel negatively would be antisemitic, a statement that I have addressed above.

  3. Well I don't think I believe in truthfullness of a report written by countries who want to wipe Israel off the map, so we'll have to agree to disagree here

  4. I love your comments, generally because it seems we so often have to agree to disagree....

    Do you think it would be any more truthful coming from countries who have a vested interest in maintaining Israel in it's current form? Or do you think that these two rather dichotomous sides would even be able to come up with a single report?

  5. I don't know about the US or Canada, but I don't think my country has a vested interest in maintaining Israel in its current form. I was very proud of my country when it boycotted the conference

    I think most European countries support the idea of two separate independent countries of Israel and Palestine, and sometimes are even slightly skewed towards Palestine - so I don't see how their report would be anti-Palestinian.

    I understand and share critical opinions of the Israeli policies in Palestine. I don't think anybody in their right mind supports it. But I find that many of the criticisms which are alledgedly only against the Israeli policies are in fact thinly veiled antisemitic comments. Again, it may be different in Canada.

  6. Although I cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that some of the Israeli policies that you refer to could be thinly veiled antisemitic comments, which seems to be your experience, I have to say that I have never interpreted comments I have heard that way. Actually, some of the strongest Israeli Apartheid activists that I know are Jewish.

    I'm not familiar enough with the various positions to comment further on that aspect of it, but from what I have seen, arguments that Israeli apartheid week is antisemitic are used merely to discredit the movement (at least in Canada), because if most people believe that the position is antisemitic, they won't bother listening to the message being presented.

  7. The other problem I have with statements like the Israeli apartheid is that it's ineffective because if one uses such strong comparisons, it offends people and they are unwilling to discuss even if otherwise, if one used a more moderate language, they would perhaps listen. It's like when you compare your opponent to Hitler, it ends all discussion. And the problem here is not one dimensional - however much I sympathise with the poor oppressed Palestinians, I cannot think of a solution - I wouldn't want to be an Israeli who lives in fear of terrorist attacks and is under constant fire from behind the border.

    Although in light of what Israel did with the ships, I don't feel like arguing in favour of that anymore :(

  8. But isn't that also the point of using the term apartheid... yes, it is a strong statement, but rather than offending people, it could just show people that there is a problem, and a serious one at that. If calling it something else would bring us to a solution, then it could be useful; that being said, if Israel is an apartheid state, then it should be labeled such. This should make people uncomfortable, because the situation is not ok.

    The term racism also makes people uncomfortable, so I have numerous people say that they are not racist, BUT (insert racist comment here). This doesn't make the statement any less racist, and labeling Israel something other than an apartheid state would not change the actual living conditions.

  9. Well no, I don't agree. If you compared me to Hitler or something I wouldn't talk to you anymore, no matter how justified the comparison, and you wouldn't have any more opportunities to convert me. It doesn't work and it only alienates people.

    I see a marked difference between the South African Apartheid which was based on an openly stated racist ideology, and the situation in Israel and Palestine, where the Israeli policies are a (hugely excessive) reaction to Palestinian attacks.

  10. Orlando, a reader and friend of mine has written a response to this debate, which I am using to begin an entirely new post.