Attacks on Pride: An open letter to Toronto Councillors

| July 6, 2011

Dear Councillors,

I am sure you have many other things to do with your time apart from endlessly debating the issues of Israeli Apartheid and its positioning within Toronto Pride. I have appealed to you before but do so once more as in July 1st's daily Israeli newpaper, Ha'aretz, Irwin Cotler (Canadian MP, co-founder of the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Antisemitism and former justice minister) has finally put this argument to rest when he states unequivocally that criticism of Israel as an apartheid state is within the bounds of legitimate discourse. While my Jewish voice and those of countless others did not allay your fears in this regard, I hope the man who has led the charge not only against antisemitism in Canada, but who coined the phrase "the new antisemitism," can allow cooler heads to prevail.

I have written to you before as a member of the Jewish community and the gay community, as someone who has fought for justice my whole life, be it for Jewish rights, gay rights or, now, justice in Palestine. What being Jewish (and gay) has taught me is to fight for the rights of others, not only my own.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Councillor James Pasternak and Councillor Doug Ford, I hope you are listening: Cotler has suggested that it is not only legitimate criticism, but it is an important principle of democratic speech. Neither you Councillor Mammoliti, nor you Councillor Ford, nor your brother Rob, the Mayor, have terrific records when it comes to defending LGBT rights in this city, and it is becoming more and more clear to most of us that any problem with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has become a ruse to defund Pride (and no doubt other minority cultural organizations to follow).

Councillor Mammoliti, you claim that "hate groups" (read the article here) however, I do not believe that as a Jew of conscience I have been participating in a "hate group") and "politics" have no place in parades, yet to be clear, you fund Pride as a cultural organization. Also to be more clear, your own city staff and manager have told you that the term Israel Apartheid DOES NOT contravene city policy. Now, Councillor Pasternak, I understand you want to change that policy (although you all voted unanimously to adopt the report) but again, I suggest you read Mr. Cotler's views on that -- he has a few years experience when it comes to antisemitism and the law. I too have fought antisemitism in this city, when neo-Nazis David Irving, Ernst Zundel and the like, were active here in Toronto.

Banning/threatening Pride because of a group, many of whom are Jewish, that criticizes Israeli state policy, cannot be compared to the real work of ridding a city of discrimination and antisemitism. These charges are clearly wrongheaded and dangerous thinking.

Councillor Mammoliti perhaps it is also unclear to you that the way Pride and many other institutions came to be is exactly through "activism," "politics" and engagement in civil rights. You would not have an anti-discrimination policy if it were not for the tireless work of the Dudley Laws in this city or the Doug Stewarts (Black Cap) or, frankly, the Tim McCaskells (of the Toronto Board of Education, Aids Action Now and now QuAIA) or Tony Souzas (also of QuAIA, founder of Gay Asians Toronto etc). Frankly, your homophobic comments over the years do not make you a great candidate to take on this debate. It's hard for most of us not to have suspicions that perhaps you have another agenda.

As for Team Ford, it's hard for us there as well not to think that with Rob Ford's absence from ALL Pride events and with the upcoming deficit we are now facing (which you admitted on 640 talk radio was indeed one of the concerns re-funding of Pride), that this isn't about antisemitism, hate or anything of the sort, but rather a reason to slash culture funding wherever you can (and maybe with a smattering of homophobia?). I mean, what else can we think with your voting record on LGBT issues?

I urge you to drop the witch hunt against the LGBT community and the larger agenda to defund Pride (and no doubt other city cultural events) and to calm the rhetoric. Do we really want to be a city that doesn't allow the expression of political opinions, in or outside of parades, marches, cultural events? TIFF, which you support generously, has a political position many times a day with films that espouse them from all over the world, so too Luminato, Caribbana, etc. And they are not all opinions you personally (or other constituents) might find "tasteful." The LGBT community has always had strong opinions on many matters, some specifically LGBT related, some about unions, and even some about the military. This is what makes for democracy.

Finally, if you think we are successful and affluent enough to be able to fund ourselves (as Councillor Mammoliti also stated in several interviews), then perhaps we should take our parade elsewhere (or let it die) and all the millions of dollars we bring with it. You might have quite a few very angry businessman and taxpayers when you have to add those lost millions to the deficit. And to be even-handed, you will have to cut off TIFF and Luminato and all the other cultural events that make this city not only great, but frankly put even more dollars in your coffers. A city without culture is not only dead but poorer in all senses of the word.

You cannot begin to cherry-pick with culture; policing the speech and actions of the LGBT community is not part of your job any more than deciding which films get played at TIFF or what plays happen in the theatres. Funding culture with the knowledge that it pays back tremendously is what is fiscally and morally responsible and hence part of your jobs as Toronto city councillors. We are your gravy.

Elle Flanders is a Canadian filmmaker and a driving force behind Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.



COTLER: "...the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state is false, defamatory and hateful..." LETTER TO THE EDITOR BY IRWIN COTLER TO HAARETZ Your headline in the article “Canadian MP Cotler: Calling Israel an apartheid state can be legitimate free speech“ – as well as the inappropriate juxtaposition of disparate comments – suggest that the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state can be legitimate free speech. As all of my writing, my talk at the President’s Conference and my follow up interview with Ha’aretz make clear: the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state is false, defamatory and hateful, but the right to be wrong, defamatory and hateful – however offensive it may be, can nevertheless be an exercise in free speech. Simply put, the fact that the indictment is hateful – and may cross the line into being anti-Semitic when it calls for the dismantling of the State – does not mean that we should prohibit the hateful speech to begin with. It means, as I said in the interview, that we need to engage it, expose it, rebut it and thereby “delegitimize the delegitimizers” – not prevent their delegitimizing speech to begin with. The main theme in my writings – and in the interview – was regrettably not referenced in the article itself: that the real concern is not the phenomenon of the delegitimization of Israel. That has always been with us – what is new, and particularly offensive, is the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under all that which is good, for example: the struggle against racism, international law, human rights, and the like. The result is not only prejudicial to the State of Israel - as in the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state or the singling out of Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena– but prejudicial to the case and cause of the struggle against racism and human rights. To label Israel an apartheid state demeans the real struggle against apartheid – in which I was honoured to be at the forefront – as much as it falsely misrepresents Israel, however one may criticize Israeli policy and practice. Irwin Cotler Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Hi Irwin, thanks for your reply. I was quite enthused about your piece in Ha'aretz and as the writer noted, this presents a big shift for in what you have said previously. I think the nuance missing here however is the slippage in the delegitimization speak. Let's be clear: when one critiques Israel for it's apartheid-like policies of racism, segregation, walls etc. one is simply doing that, not calling for the 'end of Israel' or delegitmizing it wholesale. I am sure there are those who do, but we cannot all be lumped into the delegitmizer camp. Many of us, Jewish and otherwise are critiquing the current state policies that are abhorrent as do Israelis time and again. To suggest that somehow those of us in these battles are simply laundering them under banners such as racism, human rights etc is somehow missing the point that the very problem is that Israel flaunts International Law time and again, that it is abusing human rights (plenty of evidence in B'tselem and 10,000 political prisoners) that reports of the rise of racism and racist incitement in Israel are alarming (orthodox rabbis notwithstanding) and racist policies implemented by the current government are enough to make my Jewish hair stand on its end. I believe in my heart of hearts that with all your experience as a human rights lawyer and member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and its sub-Committee on Human Rights, as well as on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, that you know when Human Rights violations are occurring. Israel is no more being singled out by those of us who do this work than anywhere else. It just so happens that many of us are Jewish and concerned (like you with the CPCCA) and have been involved with Israel for many, many years. Why is it that when we speak out about Israel we are singling Israel out but when you do, you are simply speaking about Israel? Because one is positive rather than negative? There is plenty of work being done by human rights organizations re other countries all over the world, this just happens to be our particular corner.  Jews have a long tradition of social justice, it makes sense that when we see travesties of justice in our own backyard that we will be vocal. And rightly so. Perhaps rather than spending our time worrying about the 'delegitmizers' and whether Israel is being 'singled out', we join efforts to fix things rather than being defensive.




















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