Thursday, July 8, 2010

A case study in failure: the Israel lobby at Toronto Pride

The Gay Secretary

Just one month ago, Israel lobby groups in Canada were celebrating the decision of Pride Toronto to prohibit the participation of the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) at the 2010 Pride parade. The group has marched in the parade since 2008 in response to a public relations campaign to rebrand Israel as a safe haven for queers in the Middle East, effectively pinkwashing the occupation and Israel's apartheid practices –- which deny rights to queer Palestinians.

After two years of backroom lobbying of the Pride board of directors, their sponsors and city officials who make funding decisions for the festival, the organization succumbed to pressure and announced that it would censor the term "Israeli apartheid" from the parade.

In its May 28 editorial A case study in activism, the National Post hailed the decision as a landmark victory that would have “significant repercussions for the intellectual climate in this country.”

Less than a month later, Pride Toronto reversed its decision and allowed Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to march in the parade. As a result of the controversy, hundreds of people joined the group at Pride last weekend, forming the largest Palestine solidarity contingent in the parade’s history.

How did this happen? The Israel lobby applied many of the same tactics it used successfully against other community groups, unions, student associations, artists and academic institutions. Why did they backfire this time?

When Naomi Klein made a surprise appearance at a cabaret fundraiser for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid at a Toronto nightclub last week, she summed it up in six words: “They messed with the wrong community.”

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