Why attempts to exclude Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from Toronto Pride are wrong

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A QuAIA banner at last year's Toronto Pride.

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Today, a dispute resolution panel ruled that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) can participate in Toronto's Pride Parade this Sunday, denying an effort by supporters of the Israeli occupation of Palestine to ban the group. This open letter by a long-time activist for Palestinian rights argues that it was outrageous to attempt to exclude them in the first place. 

I have read with great concern that some individuals and partisan organizations are attempting to create obstacles to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in an attempt to deny this organization the right to participate in the Toronto Pride Parade.

I have been advised that B’nai Brith and an individual have lodged complaints with the Pride Dispute Resolution Process (DRP) to ban QuAIA from all Pride parades. I have prepared this ppen letter to address this important public issue. It is also important to note that on June 14, 2011 Toronto City Council adopted the position that the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" does not violate Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination Policy, Ontario Human Rights Code or Canada'’s Criminal Code regarding hate speech.

At stake here are the issues of censorship of political speech and perhaps the future of LGBT politics. The gay community is no stranger to the politics of discrimination and censorship and perhaps this is the reason that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals are sensitive to issues of discrimination, racism and violence against communities on the basis of their identity and see the injustice in Israel'’s treatment of the Palestinians and the strong parallels to apartheid in South Africa.

It is interesting to see what South Africans who have lived under the racist apartheid system have to say about the Palestinian issue and Israeli apartheid. Nelson Mandela, the first president of a non-racist South Africa, is a strong supporter of the Palestinian people.

Mr. Kgalema Motlanthe, the deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC), shortly after returning from a visit to Israel stated that "the current situation for Palestinians in the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories) is worse than conditions were for Blacks under the Apartheid regime."

Here is what other prominent South Africans have to say about the issue of Israel and apartheid:

"I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu 

"But what is interesting is that every black South African that I'’ve spoken to who has visited the Palestinian territory has been horrified and has said without hesitation that the system that applies in Palestine is worse." - Professor John Dugard, Former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who helped bring about the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, has also spoken out on Israel’'s policy towards the Palestinians and has written a book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. In an interview in Israel, Carter stated the following on the Apartheid comparison:

"When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa."

Issues that are virtually forbidden in the North American public arena are treated much differently in Israel, where such topics are part of the general political discourse and debate. Many Israelis use the term apartheid to describe Israel’'s policies toward the Palestinians. It is worth reviewing a portion of the political debate and public discussion of these questions in Israel.

Michael Ben-Yair was Israel'’s attorney general from 1993-96. He wrote that after Israel won the Six Day War in June 1967: "We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one - progressive, liberal - in Israel; and the other - cruel, injurious - in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day."

Another prominent Israeli politician who served many years in the Knesset, Shulamit Aloni, has also been scathing in her criticism of Israel’'s policies toward the Palestinians. Aloni, is the Israeli Prize laureate who once served as Minister of Education under Yitzhak Rabin. She wrote, "Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It'’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of apartheid with the native Palestinian population."

The comparison between Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and to apartheid is a legitimate part of that debate and this is an analogy frequently used by Israelis and also by South Africans.

The pro-Israeli side is arguing that QuAIA'’s participation is hurtful to them. The morally correct and legally correct position is that excluding QuAIA for its support of Palestinian human rights is "hurtful" and discriminatory against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, and of the many Jews and non-Jews who support human rights for Palestinians and oppose Apartheid in Israel. It is also an attempt at censorship.

There is a very long list of Jewish critics of Israel’'s policies toward the Palestinians. This includes: Albert Einstein, I.F. Stone, Rabbi Elmer Berger, Rabbi Reuben Slonim, Isaac Asimov, Noam Chomsky, Hans Kohen, Eric Fromm, Bruno Kreisky, Israel Shahak, Hannah Arendt and many other leading Jewish intellectuals and religious figures. Tens of thousands of religious Jews today are opposed to Zionism including the orthodox Neturei Karta and the Satmar sects. Mordecai Richler, the late esteemed Canadian author, wrote an article in the Toronto Star back in 1998 entitled, "Israel marks 50th anniversary out of favor with many Jews."

Denying a group like QuAIA the right to participate in the Toronto Pride Parade is an attack on freedom of speech and even an attack on democracy.

It is most certainly an attack on academic freedom and an attack on the Palestinians and those who dare speak up on their behalf.

Please do the morally and politically right thing and refuse all attempts to censor groups like QuAIA from the Toronto Pride Parade. The view that Israel is an apartheid state is supported by the vast majority of scholars on the Middle East and also by the vast majority of countries in the world.


Edward C. Corrigan is a lawyer certified as a Specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada in London, Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at corriganlaw[at]corrigan[dot]ca.

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