In Tuesday’s edition of the Jewish Tribune, the political newspaper of B’nai Brith, pro-Israel lobbyists declared their intention to threaten government and corporate sponsorship of the annual Toronto Pride Festival unless the organisation banned pro-Palestinian marchers from the parade.
According to the article, an individual named Martin Gladstone has written and met with the Pride Committee several times to express his opposition to the presence of a contingent of “queers against Israeli apartheid” over the last few years. He claimed the environment they created with their presence “has very eerie parallels to Nazi Germany.”
B’nai Brith issued a similar warning last year after a pro-Palestinian contingent marched in the annual Pride parade. This time, however, advocates are openly threatening to go after funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, the City of Toronto, Heritage Canada, and corporate sponsorships.
And with the federal government’s recent decision to cut funding for language classes offered by the Canadian Arab Federation as a result of the organisation’s advocacy for Palestine, the funding from Heritage Canada may be particularly threatened.
According to Gladstone, the City of Toronto and TD Canada Trust, a major sponsor of the event, have both contacted Pride Toronto to express their opposition to the inclusion of the anti-apartheid contingent.
This comes on the heels of a press release issued by B’nai Brith condemning a queer community forum called “Coming Out Against Apartheid”, including prominent gay activists Tim McCaskell and El-Farouk Khaki.
McCaskell spoke of his involvement in the Simon Nkoli Anti-Apartheid Committee, a Toronto-based queer group that fought against South African apartheid. Khaki, who is also grand marshal of this year’s Pride parade, spoke of how the language of queer rights is being used by the Israeli government to justify its occupation of Palestine and racial apartheid.
B’nai Brith accused the organisers of the forum of “hijacking” the gay agenda. McCaskell, well known in the queer community as a co-founder of AIDS Action Now and co-organiser of the 1981 protests against the bathhouse raids, responded with disappointment: “The B’nai Brith press release saddens me. One cannot be a credible voice for human rights while acting as an apologist for ethnic cleansing in Palestine.”
B’nai Brith’s sudden interest in the gay agenda has surprised some, including Andy Lehrer of Independent Jewish Voices. He spoke at the community forum from the audience, saying, “B’nai Brith discovered gay rights this week.”
He spoke about their refusal to take a public position during the same sex marriage debate, and accused them of actively deciding not to support hate speech protections for the LGBT community for fear of alienating their evangelical Christian supporters.
Pride Toronto was expected to make a decision on Tuesday whether to allow a pro-Palestinian contingent in the parade. That decision has not yet been made public.