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A sticky topic on a sticky Ontario day

So the PRIDE Toronto parade is over for another year. The topic of controversy again this year was whether or not QuAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid) should be allowed to march into the parade or not. First, they were disbarred; then after considerable pressure, they were reinstated, much to the dismay of some folks – a lot of them who happen to be Toronto mayor candidates (more on that later).

The subject of Israel and Palestine is a hot potato topic I don’t wade into that often, because like the abortion debate, there is often no seemingly middle ground between the 2 sides of the issue. It is polarized into black and white stances; for the supporters of each side, there are no shades of grey, and anyone who attempts to take a middle ground stance is often attacked by one side or the other.

However, I’m going to talk about it anyhow, from my point of view, as an outside neutral observer.

First, the QUAIA group and it’s positions. Quite frankly, I’ve always thought equating Israel’s positions with “apartheid” has been a bit over the top and needlessly inflammatory. A column I read today by Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star was talking about this very topic, and he had an interesting observation:

“..To be sure, decades of occupation have degraded Palestinians and dragged down Israel. But occupation is not racial segregation, despite the superficial similarities”

I wrote in to Mr. Cohn and asked him if QUAIA renamed itself “Queers Against Israeli Occupation” -QUAIO – was I right in thinking he believed their position would be more palatable then by using the apartheid terminology? The short answer from him was yes, and I’m thinking I agree with him. To be sure, they’d still generate fierce debate, but they would have avoided the hate speech charges getting thrown at them.

That brings me to the other side of the debate. I’ve seen more then a few pro-Israeli organizations and folks come running out and charging that QuAIA’s very title is hate speech, let alone their views on things. I’m not so sure that those charges aren’t a tad over the top as well. My sincere question to those folks levelling that accusation is this: If the QUAIA group is really promoting “hate speech” as some are charging, why don’t those accusers either send in a complaint to a Crown prosecutor and try to get them charged under the law, or else use the Human Rights Tribunal, if they’re so sure what QuAIA is using is really “hate speech”?

If there ever was a “guilty” verdict, then those folks would have legal weight behind that charge. Otherwise, using that terminology is being inflammatory, in my view (as an aside, I realize a fair number of the people flinging the hate speech charges are the same ones who want to ditch the Human Rights Tribunals and the section of the Human Rights Code that sets up the Tribunals with regards to hate speech, so it would be anathema to them to use the HRC, but not all hold those views).

My point in all this is; I’d like to see some folks put their money (and court of law savvy) where their mouth is, instead of just flinging it out there as a cudgel (to try and boost your Toronto mayor campaign as a specific example, by trying to pander for votes). If they truly believe it to be hate speech, then take it to the H.R Tribunal or try to get the Crown to prosecute it. Otherwise, my view is folks are afraid such a case would fall through, and if that case was dismissed, they’d no longer be able to hurl that hate speech accusation around, without threat of libel or slander charges coming their way.

So to be clear, and to summarize, I find the term “Israeli apartheid” to be over the top. But, I also find the counter-accusations of “hate speech” over the top (until proven otherwise in a judicial setting). Both sides are attempting to demonize the other by taking extreme positions, and it does nothing to advance any debate either way.

(You can now flame away, black & whiters)

UPDATE @ 5 pm: Passed on without comment.

..the primary argument used by Israel lobby groups to justify (QuAIA at PRIDE) censorship is that the term “Israeli apartheid” constitutes hate speech. The claim has been made several times by Israel lobby groups and even some mayoral candidates, but surprisingly no one has bothered to call the police to report this apparent crime.

This is because they know very well that criticism of a government is not hate speech, and it is only being framed this way by defenders of the Israeli government to smear its critics in the court of public opinion.

According to documents [PDF] from a 2009 meeting with City of Toronto officials obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Israel lobbyists admitted that the term Israeli apartheid “does not meet the criminal standard of hate law in the Criminal Code of Canada.”

9 comments to A sticky topic on a sticky Ontario day

  • DL

    Its worth reading Jimmy Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid” – he argues (and i agree) that there is no apartheid in Israel proper – but that in the occupied territories we are in grave danger of an ‘apartheid-like” situation what with all these “Jewish-only roads” to settlements and laws that blatantly discriminate against non-Jews when it comes to land ownership etc…

    If the Palestinians were smart – they would try a new tactic and demand that Gaza and the West Bank be annexed by Israel so they can all be Israeli citizens and can vote in Israeli elections – right now that would give Arabs about 58 seats out of 120 in the Knesset!

  • Richard

    Dear Blogger,

    This post lacks research and expertise, and instead proceeds from commonsense yet incorrect premises.

    Apartheid is clearly defined in international law as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” (Article II, Int. Convention on Suppressing…Apartheid)

    South Africa is most associated with apartheid, but only exemplifies certain forms of apartheid. Israel embodies and practices other crimes of apartheid, as indicated in the International Convention.

    According to the International Convention, Israel’s crimes of apartheid include:

    – expelling refugees and preventing their return.
    – the use of torture against a racial group.
    – degrading treatment and punishment of a racial group.
    – denying Palestinians a right to a nationality.
    – measures to divide populations along racial lines, especially by ghettos (as exists inside Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories).
    – expropriation of land belonging to Palestinians.
    – a racialized and unequal system of public service delivery.
    – the infliction of bodily and mental harm against Palestinians.

    All of these are crimes of apartheid, and all of them are practiced routinely and systematically by Israel for decades.

    Also keep in mind that Israel was a strong supporter of South African apartheid, and was one of seven countries to vote against the International Convention because it so obviously applied to Israeli state institutions and the occupation of the WB, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

    The best summary of Israeli apartheid is Ben White’s brilliant book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide. Pluto Press. 2009.

    Why don’t you read this book and then write a review?

    You should also read: Yves Engler, Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. Fernwood. 2010.

    There is no doubt to anyone with expertise — including leaders of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle — that Israel is an apartheid state.

    Finally, to the commentator above: under international law Gaza remains under occupation because Israel is in complete control of the airspace and borders, and because Gaza is part of the West Bank and the illegally occupied East Jerusalem. They are the same political unit in international law even though they are territorially disconnected; the illegal occupation of one is the illegal occupation of them all.

    The idea that the WB is really Jordan is laughable — an old Zionist lie with no foundation in political or legal reality. The UN and the international legal system define the WB, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem as illegally occupied territories by Israel. Full stop. In other words, Israel is the rogue state. Israel is the occupier. Israel is the colonizer. Israel is the apartheid regime.

  • KC

    I’m not really sure what anything to do with QuAIA has to do with “free speech”. To my knowledge QuAIA has not been charged under the criminal code, been subject to complaint or otherwise been subject to state coercion.

  • Fred from BC

    Skinny Dipper

    As for the term “apartheid,” I don’t think it needs only to be racial in meaning. It may also include other kinds of separatenesses which include one group dominating over others.

    Wrong. It’s an Afrikaaans word with one very specific meaning (“apartness”) that dates back to the 1930’s. You don’t get to change the meanings of words for your own political purposes, sorry.

    That said, there is nothing even remotely like apartheid in Israel, and that word was only chosen in an attempt to deliberately inflame the situation. Even “occupation” fails, since the West Bank was actually part of Jordan (won legitimately during an aggressive war waged *against* Israel, not by it) but they don’t want it back….and Gaza isn’t “occupied” either since there are no jews there (except kidnapped ones).

    And speaking of Gaza, they declared war on Israel a few years back and their stated aim is the annihilation of all Israelis, so the blockade imposed by Israel is not only totally justified and completely legal, the Gazans are lucky to receive electricity, water, food or anything else; they asked Israel to “give up land for peace”, and what was the result? Unending rocket and mortar fire, which the IDF tolerates for some reason.

    Oh, and just for fun someone should suggest that these Qaia people take a trip to Gaza to show their support for the poor beleaguered Gazans. At the very least, you should get to know the people you are trying so desperately to help, right?…

  • T-roy

    I think the entire issue around Quaia is bs. I thought we had free speech. Being gay I have had some nasties slung at me in the name of free speech so what gives? The proper way of dealing with this was done. This group was allowed to exercise their free speech and the Jewish gay community took part in the Parade and to show their side. Any sane person ignored Quaia. Over a million people showed up. The world kept turning. We need to be careful here because this was censorship and noting to do with hate speech as nothing said was hateful. The rhetoric may have been overheated but no hate speech. This is meant to foster discussion where some would rather shut it down.

    Today I saw some rabbi’s at Yonge and Sheppard with Signs equating Zionism and the state of Israel with thuggery. No one is disparaging them for their free speech. Seems to me free speech is being changed to conservative speech. We can’t talk about world issues and views surrounding it but we are allowed to be slurred. Lovely setup.

  • I honestly don’t think if QuAIA renamed itself the Queers Against Israeli Occupation would pro-Israeli supporters find this label even acceptable. I remember when I was attending university, there was a group labeled “Canadians Concerned for the Middle East”–a pretty bland label. People wanted this group banned from campus for supposedly being anti-Semitic.

    Aa for the term “apartheid,” I don’t think it needs only to be racial in meaning. It may also include other kinds of separatenesses which include one group dominating over others.

    I did see Kulanu and QuAIA march in the parade. I found QuAIA to be more authentic of representing the view of some gay/lesbian people whereas the Kulanu group appeared to be filled with mostly straight Jews with a few gays thrown in.

    As for Cohn’s column, while I thought it was well written, he uses the stale strategy of identifying other injustices in the Middle East region. QuAIA is focused on Israel; it doesn’t need to be focused on every single human rights violation in the world. If other people want to focus on the injustices against Palestinians in Lebanon, then those people should form a new organization to advocate for the Palestinians in Lebanon. Perhaps someone will tell the other people that there are other injustices to focus on such as those found in Israel and the occupied territories.

    The QuAIA supporters can manage their own affairs; they don’t need others to tell how to run the organization.

  • Strange how these same folks who are so easy to accuse others of Ant-Semitism are equally at ease reeling off Anti-Islamic statements. No one asks them to tone down their rhetoric.

  • KC

    Agreed with Scott. The lack of an underlying racial motivation is enough to render the “apartheid” term inappropriate whatever other similarities they may be. The existence and relatively good (this is not to say that it is perfect) treatment of Israeli Arabs puts to lie the notion that this is an “apartheid” type situation. Similarily the bellyaching that “Israeli apartheid” is hate speech is dumb as well. The expression may be loaded, reductionist and inflamatory but it is not “hateful” towards any group entitled to hate speech protection.

    The one thing I would take issue with is that judicial pronouncement is somehow important. We use words in the ordinary day to day sense, not the technical legalistic sense.

  • Jon

    Apartheid isn’t a term that is used to be unnecessarily inflammatory. It is a crime under international law and many aspects of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians are left out of the discussion when you only talk about occupation.

    If you want to understand why it is apartheid from people who actually lived under South African apartheid, read the report from the South African Human Sciences Research Council: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20407281/Occupation-Colonialism-Apartheid-FullStudy-HSRC-SA

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