Toronto queer group that won right to say “Israeli apartheid” wraps up

Members of QuAIA carry a banner depicting the progress of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine at World Pride Toronto in June 2014.

QuAIA

Toronto’s Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) has announced that it is wrapping up.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” group member Tim McCaskell explains in a press release. “But we decided that retiring QuAIA allows us all to develop new strategies for supporting the Palestine solidarity movement and to make new links across oppressions in our communities.”

Founded in 2008, QuAIA has played a leading role in educating people in its community and far beyond about “pinkwashing” – Israel’s effort to promote itself as allegedly progressive on LGBTQ issues in order to distract from its atrocious abuses of Palestinian human rights.

Among QuAIA’s many important contributions is successfully fighting a censorship campaign that attempted over several years to effectively ban the group from marching in Toronto’s city-sponsored pride parade.

As a result, QuAIA won legal rulings that the term “Israeli apartheid” is a legitimate form of political expression.

Some anti-Palestinians have tried to spin QuAIA’s decision as some sort of victory for Israel. It’s no such thing. QuAIA won the argument: organized LGBTQ communities involved in progressive politics are indeed overwhelmingly against Israeli apartheid and do not see Israel’s record on LGBTQ issues as in any way mitigating criticisms of its crimes against Palestinians.

Yes, Israel has found a handful of LGBTQ-identified spokespeople to make the case against Palestinian rights, but pinkwashing has not produced the kind of realignment the authors of the strategy hoped for.

QuAIA was a campaign started at a particular moment in history and it is refreshing to see its members willing to change their tactics and focus with the times.

Curious about pinkwashing and how it works? In June 2013, QuAIA invited me to Toronto to give a talk on the topic as part of Toronto’s Pride Week. Watch it here: “Pinkwash, Greenwash, Hogwash: Ali Abunimah on Israel’s use of sex and marketing to distract from apartheid.”

Seven years of accomplishments

Here’s QuAIA’s announcement in full, which includes a quotation from me about the contributions the group has made:

After seven years of Palestine solidarity work in LGBTQ communities, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid will officially retire at the end of the month.

QuAIA was formed in 2008, after a public forum during Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Toronto where concerns were raised about “pinkwashing”: Israel’s use of gay rights to divert international attention away from the state’s violation of Palestinian human rights. The small activist group was propelled into international celebrity after the pro-Israel lobby attempted to have Pride Toronto’s funding revoked in order to silence Palestine solidarity voices at the 2010 festival.

Over the last seven years, QuAIA’s accomplishments include:

  • Educating Canadians about the conditions of occupation and apartheid policies in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

  • Winning rulings under the City of Toronto’s anti-discrimination Policy, Pride Toronto’s Dispute Resolution Process (under Ontario Arbitration Act), and at an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, that the term Israeli apartheid is a legitimate form of political expression, despite aggressive attempts by the Israel lobby to brand criticism of Israeli government policy and actions as hate speech.

  • Making the terms “Israeli apartheid” and “pinkwashing” household words in queer communities in Toronto and around the globe.

  • Fighting attacks by several city politicians and lobbyists on Pride funding.

  • Sparking a community discussion about freedom of expression, censorship and politics at Pride, which led to a major rejuvenation of the festival and challenged the move to turn Pride into a corporate-driven spectacle geared to tourists.

  • Hosting forums, screenings and educational events that built connections and coalitions with other movements for social justice (feminists, anti-Tar Sands activists, First Nations, etc.)

  • Inspiring the formation of other QuAIA groups in queer communities around the world, and promoting dialogue and action on transnational queer politics.

Over the past year, however, the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, Canada’s involvement in attempts to suppress the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and other pressing issues have pulled activist energies in many directions. Most of the original members who came together during QuAIA’s formative years are now working within a variety of fields and organizations within Toronto and internationally, stretching the small group’s resources to continue in its current form.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” explained group member, Tim McCaskell. “But we decided that retiring QuAIA allows us all to develop new strategies for supporting the Palestine solidarity movement and to make new links across oppressions in our communities.”

“QuAIA did exactly what an activist group should do,” said early spokesperson Elle Flanders. “We organized, we shifted public opinion, we raised awareness, we stood in solidarity and created a space for people to talk about Palestine. We did so through targeted campaigns and endless hours of research and outreach.”

“QuAIA has been a trailblazer in building solidarity with Palestine in Canada,” said Ali Abunimah, author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine. “As Israel launched its effort to ‘pinkwash’ its oppression of the Palestinians and falsely market itself as an LGBTQ haven, QuAIA’s work provided an important political analysis that has educated me and many others about what principled solidarity looks like.”

The QuAIA website will be archived and remain on line as a community resource.

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Comments

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We find decency in the most unusual places these days and it is refreshing. Israel's attempts to suppress criticism of their brutal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people is an attack on free speech rights and I applaud Canada's rejection of the attempt to make the words "Israeli apartheid" disallowed speech. Israel is an apartheid racist country which amuses me. It means Israelis are prejudiced against their own semitic selves. Jews and Arabs come from the two sons of Abraham and are the same people.

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As a 5-year member of QuAIA, I'd just like to say thanks Ali Abunimah for this article on QuAIA's retirement, but more importantly, for your work alongside our group in the larger struggle! Continued good luck with The Electronic Intifada.

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Bravo QuAIA. You can be proud of your great work in defense of the courageous, dignified people of Palestine. Thanks for your valuable support.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.