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.
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