Barbara Kay: So long to one of Canada’s nastiest protest groups, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid


National Post - Tuesday March 3rd, 2015

Jonathan Kay/National Post
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid's preoccupation with gay-friendly Israel as the alleged cause of regional strife was ridiculous.

One of Canada’s nastiest protest groups, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QUAIA), officially retired from operation at the end of February. Few tears will be shed at its demise. QUAIA was to Pride Toronto as the cuckoo is to the avian kingdom: a bird distinguished by the strident but meaningless monotony of its call and by the contempt the cuckoo arouses in other birds for its parasitic opportunism in laying its eggs in their nests.

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid — controversial for participation in Toronto Pride Parade — disbanding

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, the group whose participation in the annual Toronto Pride Parade was a continued source of contention, is disbanding.

In a Thursday post to its website, the group said its “activist energies” had been stretched in too many directions for the organization to “continue in its current form.”

As such, it will “officially retire at the end of the month.”

Formed in 2008, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has been at the centre of repeated struggles over public funding for the pride parade. In 2011, the group pulled out of the parade after city hall threatened to deny municipal funding to Pride Toronto.

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From its inception in 2008, the QuQus (as I came to think of QUAIA) exploited resources and an audience they had no legitimate claim to by marching in Pride and bruiting their hatred of Israel to throngs of gay-friendly spectators. For sheer hypocrisy, QUAIA had few peers. Israel, as innumerable critics have pointed out, is the sole democracy in the Middle East. Not only is Israel one of the most gay-friendly nations on the planet, it is a refuge for gays from neighbouring Arab countries, where homosexuality is considered both a sin and a crime, punishable by a cruel and public death. Whatever else one may choose to criticize about Israel, its impeccable credentials on all gender-related fronts make Pride the most improbable of “nests” for the metaphorical egg of anti-Israel political theatre.

QUAIA’s stubborn presence in Pride sparked annual controversy, where gay rights, free speech, the role of government in funding civic events and Middle Eastern geopolitics blended to form a noxious summertime brew. QUAIA bullishly stuck to its guns, although it never did gain respectability, thanks to immediate pushback by media-savvy resisters, who kept Pride and Toronto City Council’s back to the wall on funding challenges.

Lawyer and gay rights activist Martin Gladstone, for example, was quick off the mark in shooting footage of the 2009 parade, which he edited into a documentary called Reclaiming our Pride. In it the hatred on the faces of many QUAIA and D[ykes]AIA marchers is palpable. Swastikas on T-shirts characterized Israel as a Nazi state, and the air rang with menacing chants, like “Fist by fist, blow by blow, apartheid state has got to go.” This was exterminationist rhetoric that made many Jews anxious enough to stay away from the parade, and gays of good faith ashamed of the stain on Pride’s positive brand.

QUAIA activists never cared about Pride’s spectator-friendly image or gay rights. Gripped by an obsession with the Jewish state’s allegedly fathomless evils, while utterly oblivious to horrific human rights abuses elsewhere, QUAIA was political pathology on parade, and increasingly, the public grew restive at its own role as enabler.

Pride was doubtless sick of the negative attention and the tussles with sponsors over QUAIA’s inclusion, but it was mayor John Tory who drove the final nail into QUAIA’s coffin. He had made it clear before his election that he would no longer fund Pride, and — unlike Toronto’s equivocating city council, who played to their base with untenable appeals to “free speech” (hey, nobody was stopping QUAIA from picketing the Israeli embassy on their own time and dime) — meant it. Tory saw the issue for what it was: Public space was being hijacked, and a publicly funded celebration ruined with a form of hate speech that created civic division and intra-group rancour.

It didn’t help QUAIA that current events in the Middle East — Arab spring followed by Arab winter — made any preoccupation with Israel as the alleged cause of regional grievances look ridiculous. Indeed, participation by the QUAIA faithful in last year’s Pride was risibly low.

In an email exchange, Martin Gladstone reminded me that QUAIA was further blindsided by the 2013 arbitrary confinement in Egypt of QUAIA founder and zealous anti-Zionist, filmmaker John Greyson, who had been en route to a Gaza protest via Cairo, and was arrested for filming a political protest in Ramses Square. I agree that was certainly an embarrassing moment for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) crowd, of which QUAIA was but a branch office. Egypt is no friend to Israel, but Greyson’s anti-Israel credentials did not prove to be a hedge against Arab suspicion of do-goodie Westerners interfering in their affairs.

Greyson’s homosexuality had the potential to land him in hotter water than mere imprisonment. While the irony of his predicament could not have been lost on him, Greystone personally seems to have learned nothing from his ordeal. He is as active as ever on the BDS file. Greyson is the avatar for his movement. You can take the Israel-hating activist out of his prison, but you can’t take the intellectual prison out of the activist.

QUAIA’s meltdown is nice, but a sidebar in the larger problem. QUAIA is to BDS as a cuckoo to a dragon. Ethical mayors and Middle East reality alike shrivel in the heat of its irrational, but fiery blast.