TORONTO (JTA) – Canadian Jewish organizations are saying they will not back down after an unexpected policy reversal that will allow an anti-Israel group to participate in this year’s Toronto gay pride parade.
Organizers of the annual parade, one of the largest events on Canada’s cultural calendar, backtracked this month from an earlier decision that had banned a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from marching in the parade under that name. Critics said the reversal was part of a ruse designed to secure some $120,000 in city funding.
Parade officials, responding to pressure from Jewish groups and several municipal politicians, including candidates for mayor, said in May that they were "disallowing" the controversial group from using the phrase "Israeli apartheid" in the July 4 parade. Officials said the anti-Israel group could march under another banner, such as "Queers in Favor of a Free Palestine."
The city of Toronto initially had threatened to pull about $120,000 in funding to the parade, saying participation by the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid group could contravene the city’s anti-discrimination rules. After parade organizers said the group would be barred from marching under its name, the city was satisfied that its rules would not be violated and handed over the funding to parade organizers.
But Queers Against Israeli Apartheid refused to comply, vowing to participate under its name and setting up a potential confrontation on the day of the event. Last week, the parade board announced an about-face: The ban on anti-Israel language was replaced by a requirement that all participating groups simply "read, sign and agree to abide by" the city of Toronto’s policies on non-discrimination.
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid declared victory against what the group said was censorship. Jews and their allies said parade organizers duped the city to acquire the money.
"I think it’s safe to say that all of City Hall feels duped," said City Councilman Giorgio Mammoliti, according to a report in the Toronto Sun.
Mammoliti, a mayoral candidate, told the newspaper that he would introduce a motion asking the money to be returned and to discontinue future funding of the parade.
Speaking a news conference organized last Friday, fellow councilman and mayoral hopeful Rob Ford said he was "disgusted" by the reversal by parade organizers.
"There is no room for hate speech in the City of Toronto, and I’m going to do everything I can to stop this," he said.
Jewish advocates used the news conference to relay their disappointment and pledge to forge ahead.
"We are more determined than ever to galvanize a large number of marchers for the parade," said Justine Apple, executive director of a local gay and lesbian Jewish group, Kulanu.
"We will not be bullied from attending our parade," she said. "Groups that bring messages of hate cannot be given license to hijack the parade and turn it into a propaganda tool for such anti-Israel venom."
Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said he will march in the event and will be sending an e-mail blast to thousands of community members urging them to stand by Israel, the only country in the Middle East that supports gay and lesbian rights.
He called parade organizers "weak-kneed and sad."
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid spokeswoman Elle Flanders told JTA that her group "of course" will abide by the parade’s condition, "as at no point do the words ‘Israel Apartheid’ constitute hate speech. [They are] nothing more than a descriptor used by the Israeli press, politicians and intellectuals time and again."
Flanders is Jewish and was raised partly in Israel.
Martin Gladstone, a gay Jewish lawyer who led the campaign against Flanders’ group, slammed parade officials for their actions.
"They received their funding provided they kept the anti-Israel groups out.," he said. "That was the condition from the city. And they took the check and they reversed [their decision] and rebuked the city."
Inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, Gladstone told JTA, "has nothing to do with gay pride. It hurts our gay community. And sponsors and stakeholders at some
point [will say] they signed up for a gay rights celebration, not a hate fest against Israel."