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Andrew Brett

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Andrew Brett is a queer activist in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewbrett

Gay panic at the CJC and Toronto Star

| July 11, 2009
Bernie Farber at Toronto Pride
At its executive committee meeting this week, the Canadian Jewish Congress discussed how to respond to a comment on the Toronto Star website about its chief executive officer, Bernie Farber.  What might have seemed like a trivial matter resulted in a clarification and public apology from the Star’s public editor.

It all goes back to an article by Star writer Antonia Zerbisias on July 1st.  The outspoken columnist wrote about attempts by Zionist groups to stifle freedom of expression, from trying to cancel funding for an academic conference at York University to successfully banning George Galloway from Canada.

In response, the Star published a letter to the editor from Farber on behalf of the Congress, arguing that shutting down debate was constitutionally protected under the “freedom of expression” of Zionists.

The discussion didn’t stop there.  On Zerbisias’ blog, Broadsides, she expanded on examples of such censorship attempts, pointing to Farber’s opposition to a pro-Palestinian group marching in this year’s Toronto Pride.  Multiple media outlets quoted Farber saying that political groups do not belong in gay pride, and that he was encouraging people to lobby Pride Toronto against the inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the parade.

When a commenter on her blog pointed out that Farber had himself marched in the Pride parade with a political group, Zerbisias responded with tongue firmly in cheek, “Imagine my surprise when I saw Bernie Farber identifying himself as queer by joining a pro-Israel gay rights group in the parade.”

Although he isn’t gay, Farber marched in the parade wearing a t-shirt that read, “Nobody knows I’m gay.”  It was part of a concerted effort on the part of Zionists to bolster their numbers in Pride with straight supporters.  An e-mail circulated by a pro-Israel group in advance of the parade explicitly encouraged its straight members to join the contingent.

Despite being the one to falsely claim he was gay in the first place, Farber discussed the issue with the CJC executive committee this week and issued a letter to the Toronto Star, objecting to Zerbisias’ comments.  He insisted he wasn’t gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  He even questioned the right of columnists to identify any public figure who attended the parade, even though his presence had been publicized by the Canadian Jewish News and Farber himself before Zerbisias responded to it.

Kathy English, the Star’s public editor, agreed to publish an apologetic column on Saturday.  She wrote that Zerbisias’ comments “fell short of the Star’s standards of fairness, accuracy and civility,” and promised to rein in journalists who “put the Star in a negative light.”

It’s unclear what exactly was unfair, inaccurate or uncivil about holding Farber accountable for appropriating another identity for political objectives.  But it sends a chilling message to journalists when they are warned not to put their publication “in a negative light” with public figures.

How disappointing to see the Star scapegoat one of its own columnists in order to appease a political lobby organization.

To send a message to the Star’s public editor Kathy English, e-mail publiced@thestar.ca

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