If you have been following the story, you know that Pride Toronto, the LGBTQI group that puts on Toronto’s annual gay pride parade, yielded to outside pressure to ban the words “Israeli apartheid”, and then, in the face of a huge backlash, rescinded the ban. Proponents of the ban, led by Canadian Jewish groups, are now fighting back. One legislator, who would rather see Pride Toronto destroyed, is seeking defunding of the organization.
Elle Flanders is a member of QUAiA, Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid, the group whose mere existence at Pride prompted the censorship campaign. Read Flanders’ moving piece here:
Healing the Gay Jewish Divide-Elle Flanders
As a Canadian Jew who grew up in Israel, I am stymied. My Israeli friends debate what is happening in their country freely. I say the same in Toronto, and I am not only an anti-Semite, but an enemy of the state. As a gay Jew I am told that my only legitimate presence at Pride would be as pro-Israel, running down the street with Israeli flags to ‘show my allegiance’ to the Jewish state. As a gay Canadian I have NEVER carried a Canadian flag at Pride, homonationalism has never been my thing. Does that mean I am anti-Canadian and a Canadian hater? Does it make me an enemy of the Canadian state? Why do I have to show my Jewish pride by not only carrying an Israeli flag, but also silencing all debate on what’s happening in Israel at the moment?
And what about all the Jews that have NO affiliation with Israel whatsoever? Should they have to join Kulanu’s pro-Israel stance if they simply want to march showing their Jewish identity? Is allegiance to Israel-at-all-costs the prerequisite for being Jewish at this point? Bernie Farber and the Canadian Jewish Congress, the B’nai Brith, Hillel, Kulanu and the United Jewish Appeal would like you to think so and it’s damaging our community.
Kulanu, which means ‘everyone’ in Hebrew, is a gay Jewish contingent that marches at Pride, it claims to be Canada’s only gay Jewish organization. I think some other gay Jewish groups may beg to differ, but as they are not pro-Israel, they are dismissed for all intents and purposes. Kulanu says in its mission statement that they do not take a position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, yet their actions over the last two years would lead one to believe otherwise. I am guessing that although I fit the bill of ‘everyone,’ I would not be welcome with my Israel critique at Kulanu who have said expressly in their emails and website, that they march in support of Israel and all Jews who feel similarly, gay and straight, should join them this year.
According to Martin Gladstone, the anti-QuAIA crusader (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), we should not be marching, as our issues are not ‘queer’. With all due respect, one might ask what ‘support for Israel’ has to do with queer issues? But unlike Gladstone, I would never argue that they should not march. If that is their expression of queerness, support for Israel-at-all-costs, so be it.
The truth is that Israel, through its ministry of foreign affairs, has launched a campaign here in North America to turn all eyes away from the human rights abuses and violations, towards the ‘good stuff’: gay rights; innovations in science; technology; the arts, etc. This campaign as it relates to the gay community has been called Pinkwashing—the using of a gay agenda to cover up less-pleasant realities in Israel at the moment. That’s where this all comes together. That’s one of the reasons QuAIA marches, saying don’t use our queer bodies to justify your war crimes. Sure there is a gay parade in Tel Aviv, that’s fantastic, but it doesn’t make the rest of the issues disappear does it?
Back to the issue of why mainstream Jews in North America seem to be liberal on so many issues yet cannot bring themselves to critique Israel, even in the slightest way. There are issues there that would make the average queer’s hair stand on end, and that get debated in Israeli society regularly. Specifically to the gay plight, do we ever hear about how Rabbis and religious members of the Knesset lead the fight against Gay rights there? Or do we only hear about Israel, the land of tolerance and democracy that has a Pride parade? Do we talk about the gays that got stabbed at a Jerusalem Pride two years ago by orthodox Jews, or do we simply celebrate that a Pride parade occurred? Why the silence on the complexities in Israel by the mainstream Jewish community?
From a liberal perspective, how does a Canadian Jew distinguish between rights for gays and rights for Arabs for example? Just recently, the Knesset passed a law forbidding Arab citizens of Israel from purchasing homes within Jewish settlements (those inside Israel, not the West Bank). Effectively the law states that based on one’s ethnicity (not citizenship), one may not buy property in certain areas. If we simply replaced this for ‘gays’, would the liberal Canadian Jew then be outraged? What if a gay person was forbidden by the Canadian parliament from settling in Alberta? Or let’s make it simpler: What if a Jew was forbidden from living in Mississaugua? Sounds ludicrous? Well, it may, but that’s one of the many laws recently passed as it relates to Arab citizens of Israel. But the community remains mum; they’d rather talk about Iran and its threat to Israel’s existence rather than the daily erosion of democracy therein.
My Israeli friends are baffled by the lack of honesty in the Jewish Canadian community and my Jewish Canadian gay friends are nervous that they have become targets in the ever-more polarizing campaign of Kulanu and the mainstream Jewish Canadian organizations who maintain that ‘either you are with us or against us, you are pro-Israel or for its destruction’. For Jewish members of the LGBT community and their friends, this has produced acrimoniousness and a sense of fear as evidenced by a young gay man who would not take my free speech pamphlet at an event last week. He glared at me and said: “I’m Jewish!” I retorted, “Wow, cool, me too!” His confusion was legitimate in the face of Kulanu’s messaging.He looked even more baffled when I told him I grew-up in Israel. He said, “So, you’ve even been over there? What’s it like?” Despite his absolute ignorance, his mind had been made-up—Those who questioned Israel were the enemy.
I would hence ask Israel’s liberal supporters, when IS it justifiable to speak out against one’s country (or one’s that you support in any case)? Amongst my Israeli friends, the line was crossed so long ago that this is not even the question anymore—their question is back at us—“As Jewish gays in Canada, when will you speak about what is really happening here? Because our government, the rise of the religious right, and the erosion of democracy makes Israel a dangerous place to live in for gays and straights alike. When will you support us as people and not as an ideology?”
Cypriot journalist Christiana Voniati, with whom I recently did this interview, Echoes From The Warsaw Ghetto In Gaza, reminded me this week of an article I wrote in early 2004 about going to the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India. Its cousin, the US Social Forum is happening right now in Detroit, so I thought this would be a good time to reprint what I wrote in 2004 because in many ways it marked my first personal encounter with the way so many groups, in this case the Simon Wiesenthal Center, were willing to lie and dehumanize in service of a political agenda. It also describes what I feel is even more true today-the parallel yet all too often deliberately hidden universe of mutual respect, love and friendship that already exists between many Arabs, Jews, Palestinians, Israelis and others, especially in this movement for justice and equality.
One reason why Israel is singled out for so much attention is because its supporters are so very vociferous, pushing their agenda at every opportunity. As a consumer of news, the speed of their responses and their sheer ubiquity inflames my interest and my antipathy. Why do they persist in trying to defend the indefensible?
Another reason for my disproportionate interest in this conflict is that I feel I have been lied to, and I feel that people are still trying to lie to me and I don’t like it. Why try to convince me that those Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara were terrorists? Whatever else they were, they patently were not that. If the word “terrorist” is to have any meaning at all it must refer to those who attack innocent civilians. From an Israeli propaganda perspective, silence would be better than lies.
This is precisely what happened to me when I went to Mumbai. I was in many ways naive, and it was the confrontation with the smear-machine that politicized me even more. One can only ask the Israeli government - With friends like these (Simon Wiesenthal Center, Canada’s B’nai Brith etc), who needs enemies?
Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum? A Personal Report
By CECILIE SURASKY
It is my first morning at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India and I am at a workshop on Palestinian women and the occupation. In the audience is a woman who I first think might be Israeli–she could easily be one of my friends and I feel an immediate kinship with her. She tells me she is 34 and has lived her whole life in Gaza except for college. I ask her if I can interview her.
She cautiously eyes my card, on which I have purposely written in thick, visible letters: Jewish Voice for Peace. “I don’t know, she says. “Do you support the occupation?” It seems such a surreal question. How could anyone support an occupation?
The very word evokes domination, a kind of cruelty. No, I say, we want to end the occupation. We want a peace that is just.
I ask about the checkpoints. She describes sitting in her car waiting to be allowed to drive through. The young Israeli soldiers are in sniper posts. You can’t see them, but they can see you, she explains. They signal it’s time to go by shooting their guns. She waits a long time until the soldiers say, “OK, now the dogs can go.”
“You think, ‘Do I want to be called a dog, or do I just want to go?’ ” she tells me. “I don’t care, so I start my car and they yell ‘No! Not you, I said dogs!’ So she turns her car off, and sometime later they say, “OK, now humans can go!” She starts her car and they look at her and the others and say “No! I said humans.” And she turns her car off and waits until finally this “other” category of Palestinian–neither human nor animal–is allowed to pass. “This,” she says, “is my only contact with Israelis.” And this, I think, and is my first contact with someone from Gaza.
The WSF and the new anti-Semitism
The World Social Forum (WSF) is the populist answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead of a gathering of the world’s mostly wealthy, white, and male heads of state and captains of industry in Davos, the WSF is a cacophony of anti-globalization/human rights activists from all over the globe. The roughly 100,000 participants represent every imaginable cause–from Indian “untouchables” and Bhutanese refugees to child trafficking and sexual minorities. They are seen in the hundreds of marches that seem to appear out of nowhere down the main thoroughfare, at the 500 information booths, in more than 1,000 workshops, and on the political posters filling every inch of available wall space.
I have come because my New Voices human rights fellowship has decided to send the fellows to the WSF. But I have an additional reason for being here. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has cited the WSF as one of the centers of what it and others refer to as the “new anti-Semitism”, and these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left. Upon closer reading, most of these accounts make little if any distinction at all between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, or between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
We’ve written extensively about the pressure campaign led in part by Canada’s B’nai Brith to ban the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from all Pride Toronto events including the LGBTQI pride parade, the Dyke and Trans marches.
B’nai Brith Canada has contacted the organizers of Toronto’s Pride Parade to urge them ensure that the agenda of the annual Pride Parade is not allowed to be hijacked by the propaganda of anti-Israel agitators. The Jewish human rights organization has also contacted the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Ontario, and the Mayor of Toronto, all contributors to the Pride Parade, asking for a review of the funding in light of the stated agenda of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.
And after Pride Toronto remarkably agreed to censor the two words “Israeli apartheid” from the parades (while it’s perfectly legal to utter the phrase in Israel or write it in Israel’s most prestigious newspaper), it seemed as though B’nai Brith and friends won. But after a massive backlash, Pride Toronto has just announced it has overturned the ridiculous decision. Xtra reports:
Pride Toronto (PT) has reversed its May board resolution banning the term “Israeli apartheid” and will instead require all participants to sign and abide by the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy.
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) — the target of the ban — has declared a victory and congratulated the queer community for pushing PT to reverse its censorship decision.
“This is a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement, which has faced censorship and bullying tactics from the Israel lobby for far too long,” said QuAIA member Tim McCaskell in the release.
Of course, QuAIA now owes a debt of thanks to their opponents who have done more than anyone to make sure the phrase “Israeli apartheid” would be on the lips of just about everyone in Canada following the story. Plus, before the ban was rescinded, QuAIA didn’t waste any time in offering an alternative free speech track for pride events. This is creative organizing:
When is the last time you heard of a student group being suspended for a year for doing what student groups do all the time-protesting a speaker? Probably never. And therein lies the question– some members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of UC Irvine planned to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk at the campus. Eleven of them did so and were peacefully escorted out of the room by security, one by one. The plan was discussed on the MSU e-list but planned separately, according to the students’ attorney Reem Salahi. In fact, MSU members were divided on the protest so did not endorse it.
And yet, as UC Irvine’s Daily Pilot reports: “A UC Irvine student conduct committee has recommended suspending the Muslim Student Union, following repeated disruptions by several of its members during a February speech by the Israeli ambassador, a campus spokeswoman said. The recommendation has not taken effect because the student group has appealed the decision, said UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon.”
Attorney Reem Salahi responds with this damning litany of hypocrisy:
The University’s disciplinary recommendation never explains why the alleged violations and particularly the alleged lie justifies the massive, unprecedented sanction that the University has levied against the MSU. In the past, UCI has permitted protestors to disrupt speakers by heckling, breaking into song and even, on one occasion, allowing an organized group of students to surround an MSU speaker critical of Israel with posters and continually shout him down to the point that he was unable to be heard. Neither these students nor their respective organizations were administratively sanctioned. Similarly egregious protests have taken place at the different UCs with little to no administrative response.
At UC Riverside earlier this academic year, Republican students shouted down and visually blocked a panel of speakers. These students espoused hate speech and yelled homophobic and racist epithets at the panelists. Police and administrators stood by and permitted the presentation to be thoroughly disrupted for over an hour. They made no attempt to detain, arrest or identify those students, even though the faculty speakers and others present could readily identify them. Nor did they conduct an investigation, punish them, or punish the campus organization with which these disorderly students were associated. Similarly at UC Berkeley, pro Israeli students interrupted a distinguished pro-Palestinian scholar and UN Special Rapporteur using a bullhorn after they were explicitly told by the police not to do so. They were not arrested and following an internal investigation, no disciplinary sanctions were levied. So, while the University preaches the “marketplace of ideas,” the disparate treatment of those who speak on the wrong side of the Israel/Palestine question reveals the weakness of the University’s commitment to this ideal.
Gay pride parades (now evolved into LGBTQ and straight ally parades) were originally created to give gays and lesbians a way to defy shame, embrace free speech, and fight an unjust status quo. And now in Toronto? No longer.
On June 7, over 20 high-level past and present awardees and grand marshals left their statuettes at the door of Pride Toronto following the resignation of the parade’s international grand marshals. They were protesting what will surely be remembered as one of the most shameful actions ever taken by a pride group: succumbing to pressure from Canada’s excessively right wing B’nai Brith to bar the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) by banning the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid.”
The Canadian gay and lesbian paper Xtra has really remarkable coverage of the sequence of events. We wrote extensively about the story here before it was announced that the words “Israeli Apartheid” would be banned not just from the pride parade but also from the trans and dykes marches. (Presumably QuAIA can come to the party if they change their names to “Queers United Against Israeli Mmmmmmm”)
The Israeli government, with the aid of its many proxies- especially in the Jewish institutional world, is working overtime after the Mavi Mavera massacre to paint the Gaza flotilla participants as terrorists.
Apparently–jamming satellite communications, absconding with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, confiscating every photo and video they could find, and releasing pathetically doctored “evidence” (thank you Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal and others) is not enough. Now groups are working to keep flotilla human rights activists out of the country.
Here’s the stunning petition the NY Jewish Community Relations Council has put together to keep activists out. Mondoweiss has audio of retired US Colonel Ann Wright, who was just in NYC, speaking about what happened. She must be the person they’re trying to keep out of the country. Good luck with that. So much for America-first.
JCRC motto:Meeting challenges indeed. Meanwhile, Iara Lee has even more footage that she and her cameraman were able to sneak off the boat. Unlike the IDF, she has the courage to let you see it unedited and raw.
My JVP colleague Sydney Levy just posted on our sister blog, TheOnlyDemocracy? This effort seems largely triggered by the Palestinian boycott of settlement goods which has already had a significant economic impact. Ynet reports:
The bill was initiated by the Land of Israel lobby in the Knesset and was endorsed by members of various factions, including Kadima party whip Dalia Itzik and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tsachi Hanegbi.
by Sydney Levy |
What is Israel’s reaction to the growing nonviolent movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions? Well criminalize it, of course!
We just learned new bill has been introduced in the Israeli Knesset by 25 Knesset members, that would criminalize all boycott activities or even boycott advocacy inside or outside Israel. You can find info about this in English here and with more detail in Hebrew here.
The proposed bill would target those that initiate, encourage, or provide assistance or information about boycotts against Israel.
Israeli citizens or residents of Israel could be sued by whoever was harmed by the boycott and would have to pay up to 30,000 shekels in restitution and an additional amount according to the harm established by the Israeli courts. This provision would endanger the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, Boycott from Within, among others.
Those that are neither citizens nor residents of Israel would lose the ability of entering Israel for at least ten years and would be forbidden from economic activity in Israel (holding an account in an Israeli bank, owning Israeli stocks, land, or any other good that requires registration.) It is not clear whether this provision would apply also to entry into the West Bank, although Prof. Noam Chomsky’s denial of entry may be a sign of things to come.
A group in a foreign country would also be forbidden from economic activism in Israel. This would apply to the Palestinian Authority as well. In the case of the PA, Israel would freeze transfer of money it owes and would use it to pay restitution to those harmed in Israel by the PA boycott of settlement goods.
It’s impossible to defend Grande Dame of White House journalists Helen Thomas’ recent off the cuff statement that Israeli Jews should go back to Germany…..or Poland. (She said Israel should get out of Palestine, but it wasn’t clear if she meant the Occupied Territories, which Israelis should get out of, or Israel behind the green line.) It was deeply offensive and wrong.
One of this country’s most important and courageous journalists said something terribly wrong, was massively criticized, apologized for it, and was forced into retirement. Exactly the way it should be, right? Wrong.
It’s hard to even chart out the hypocrisy of the whole affair. What happened in 2002 when House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on MSNBC’s Hardball? An outraged response? Nary a peep. That same year Senator James Inhofe also called for Israel to permanently retain all of the Occupied Territories, “Because God said so. “ Did he quit? No. And what to make of the fact that Obama’s White House summoned infinitely more moral outrage for Thomas’ terrible but certainly not lethal remarks, than for the death of 9 people on the Mavi Marmara, including a 19-year-old US citizen shot in the head. (One prompted “deep regret”, the other was “reprehensible”. Guess which was which.)
Taking a short trip over to Israel we discover that the Israeli military recently created an order that, according to many human rights groups and Ha’aretz, “will enable mass deportation from West Bank.” Who had to retire because of that? Maybe because it wasn’t an off the cuff remark to suggest ethnic cleansing, but an actual military order to allow it, its authors escaped opprobrium. Wacky!
Just this week, Likud party MK, Miri Regev shouted at Hanin Zuabi, an Arab member of the Knesset from Nazareth who went on the Gaza flotilla, “Get back to Gaza, you traitor!” Sounds familiar, as though Thomas herself could have said it. Outrage meter? Zero. Then again, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai wants Zuabi stripped of her Israeli citizenship, so telling her to go back to a place she is not from actually seems pretty mild by those standards.
In Israel, the premier woman journalist in the country went a hell of a lot farther, in a premeditated, rather than an impetuous fashion. And there is hardly a peep in response in her home country.
Caroline Glick is well-known to readers of right-wing e-mail lists, and of course, of the Jerusalem Post, where she is the deputy managing editor and a regular columnist. She is also a fellow at the extremist neoconservative Center for Security Policy in Washington.
Glick herself is an extremist, and even those who agree with her (and who would, of course, not refer to her as an extremist) would have to agree that she situates herself well to the right of the current Israeli government. And that’s all well and good; she’s an op-ed writer, and she is certainly entitled to her opinions.
But at her web site, Latma, Glick has raised her vitriol to a whole new level. In a video overflowing with racism, a group of Israelis satirize the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. You can see it for yourself at the link above, if you can make it through the whole thing.
Caroline Glick with fellow travelers, Morton Klein and John Bolton
In a most contemptible fashion, almost every trope of bigotry is on display in the video, which features the contention that the massive suffering in Gaza is all an elaborate fabrication. For a quick rundown of this “fabricated” suffering, check out B’Tselem’s summary of conditions in Gaza.
This level of cruelty is truly astonishing. Even if one contends that the Gaza blockade is a necessary security measure (see my earlier article for why it has the opposite effect), it is appalling to see fellow Jews laughing about it. And don’t we know all too well the offense in denying such things? (more…)
[Video of threats and taunts embedded above.] On June 6th, 2010, peace activists including members of Bay Area Women in Black and Jewish Voice for Peace held a silent vigil outside the main entrance to the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s annual “Israel in the Gardens” celebration. The peace activists called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Territories and an end to the siege on Gaza. Their silent, dignified march was greeted by members of StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel and other affiliates who called them “kapos” (concentration camp prisoners who carried out Nazi orders on other prisoners) and suggested that Israel should “sink the next flotilla with you on it.” One man made repeated explicit threats against the peace activists and their families and used a camera to take pictures. No one from StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel intervened. Rather, they kept up their vicious and abusive chants which included, according to multiple witnesses:
“Nazi, Nazi, Nazi!” - this done as a group chant
“You’re all being identified, every last one of you…we will find out where you live. We’re going to make your lives difficult..we will disrupt your families…”, all on above video.
“Sink the flotilla—and you on it!”
“Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists.”
One man yelled (to someone who may have looked heat exhausted) “I hope you stroke out, old man!”
“Ugly bitches” said to older women.
“You’re not a Jew! you gave up your Jewishness!”
“Witches in black! Bitches in black!” (hard to tell which one it was, or whether they alternated the chant)
“Bin Laden loves you! you support terrorism!”
“Is there a coroner in the house? Women in Black are dead!”
“Is there a doctor in the house? Women in Black are sick!”
“End the occupation of our sidewalk.”
“Remember 9/11, they were dancing in the streets.”
“Sharmuta!” this was chanted for a while (means “slut” or “whore” in Arabic and which was particularly shocking for Arabic speakers to hear)
“Anti-women, anti-gay, why support Hamas today!”
They were also lesbian-baiting, even though they were chanting “Anti-women, anti-gay, why support Hamas today?” One guy yelled “lesbian” at me and my friend (correctly assessing our sexual identity) and maybe the same guy yelled at someone else, “When’s the last time you dated a man?”
One guy kept saying “you’re looking at real people now (meaning Stand with Israel folks); you are not people.”
Signs said: “JVP, Proud to be ashamed to be Jewish.”
and “Don’t fuck with the Jews”.
An 88-year-old woman reported being told, “You’re halfway in your grave already’.
“Jihad!” chanted repeatedly at Muslim peace activists.
They also had signs that read, “JVP cons the world”, etc.
One woman waved the end of the large stick of her Israeli flag in a very threatening manner, as if to hit one of us (it happened to me several times as i walked by her), directed especially to those of us who carried signs identifying ourselves as Jews.
At an earlier demonstration last week at the consulate, there was a huge sign on the Stand with Us side (which Stand with Us later condemned). On one side it said “Until Gaza is destroyed, the job is not complete.” On the other, it said “God is great. It’s Islam that sucks.” (more…)
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This is a Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jvp.org) blog. JVP is dedicated to achieving a lasting peace that recognizes the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination. Our core principles are justice and equality.