Student leaders against Israeli Apartheid -

Student leaders against Israeli Apartheid

Speaking for you, using your money


This weekend’s Pride Parade in Toronto was one of the most controversial in 30 years. The issue concerned a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), and whether it would be allowed to march in the parade.

In late May, the answer was “no.” Fearing a loss of city funding and private sponsorship, Pride Toronto decided to play a game of semantics and ban the words “Israeli apartheid.” In a statement released June 7, Pride Toronto said “the use of the words ‘Israeli apartheid’ made participants feel unsafe.”

Then, just over a week ago, Pride flip-flopped, announcing it would “no longer restrict language in the Parade.” Either Pride Toronto suddenly decided that “Israeli apartheid” doesn’t make participants feel unsafe, or it capitulated to pressure. You decide.

If we can put the embarrassing flip-flop aside; should QuAIA (or the words “Israeli apartheid,” if you want to play that game) been banned in the first place? I still can’t make up my mind. (Sorry, I know that doesn’t make for quite as compelling a read.) On the one hand, public dollars are feeding the parade. It seems fishy to use tax money to fund a potentially ostracizing message, especially at an event centred around inclusiveness. On the other hand, free speech should be upheld as a cherished right. Censorship can be a slippery slope, especially when a selected few are given the authority to decide what is and is not appropriate. But despite my wavering in that respect, I have made up my mind on one aspect of the parade and it concerns how student union leaders chose to participate.

Though I am certainly no expert on issues in the Middle East, the irony of QuAIA did not escape me. QuAIA members marched along the parade route Sunday, proudly chanting, “Israeli Apartheid, you ain’t fine, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly!” despite the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that supports gay rights. Nevermind. Marchers boasted signs that read, “Israeli Apartheid is worse than South Africa” and “My Pride Includes Free Speech.” (Do you think that sign was recycled from the Ann Coulter event at University of Ottawa? No?) But all that didn’t irk me much. Indeed, QuAIA members aren’t speaking on my behalf, and though I didn’t agree with every poster board message, I watched placidly as they walked by. But then came the Ryerson/George Brown student float.

Yes, the music was pumping and the sun was just glorious, and there they were—students acting as my representatives—adorned in shirts boasting that their pride is “Against Israeli Apartheid.” Funny, I don’t think I’ve read enough on Israel to merit an opinion tee (I say that half joking). So why are my paid student representatives making a decision for me? And worse yet—why are they flaunting it on my behalf?

I have no problem with John Doe the individual advocating for whichever cause he desires. Nor do I have a problem with John Doe the public figure openly aligning himself with a position, however controversial it may be. I do, however, find issue with Mr. Doe, my representative, choosing a side on a polarizing issue, far removed from his mandate as a student advocate, and doing it on my dime.

I can already hear the response; “That’s government, kid. Get used to it.” Maybe so. And of course, this student union behaviour isn’t new. But when student fees are collected by a student union, I expect them to be spent on education issues. If nothing else, it seems careless from a strategic perspective for a student government to align itself, both fiscally and ideologically, on an issue that so severely divides its voting population, especially when the issue has little to do with education. City funding went to the Pride Parade as a whole, not specifically QuAIA. Student fees, on the other hand, seemed to be used to advocate a certain position.

At the very least, student leaders could have taken a sharpie to the “RSU” on their shirts. A city mayor advocating a certain position doesn’t speak for all municipal citizens in the same way a VP Student Life speaks for a university’s student body.

Here’s hoping the money for those student tees branded “Against Israeli Apartheid” was out of pocket, not out of student fees. Now, who’s up for a unicorn ride?


Student leaders against Israeli Apartheid

  1. “Though I am certainly no expert on issues in the Middle East”

    Indeed you are not.
    Israel is not a gay haven and gays face huge discrimination there. The little rights given to gays there is used as a PR campaign. And just because gays Jewish Israels are given a few rights, it doesn’t excuse the apartheid discrimination gay Arab Israels face. Apartheid polices don’t spare gay Arabs.
    Furthermore, this notion that apartheid can be justified because Israel is perceived as a safe haven for gays is ridiculous. This is what in the gay community is called “Pinkwashing”.

  2. What about the treatment of gays in the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Ababia etc etc. I don’t see any Gay Pride celebrations there.

  3. So Bill maintains that the only reason that Gays have rights in Israel is for PR purposes: “This is what the gay community calls Pinkwashing.”

    Well….Bill’s belief that the only reason the Israelis can hold a reasonable position is to advance their PR agenda is cr*p. “This is what the Jewish community calls tillting your head until one eye turns brown.”

  4. Pingback: Jonathan Kay: At Gay Pride, Zionists and anti-Zionists fight to a draw – National Post | news plus

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  6. “Ted Bundy killed a lot of people.”

    “Why are you singling out Ted Bundy? What about Jeffrey Dahmer?!”

  7. Perfect comment, Rick.

    While I doubt that Israel enacted gay rights for PR purposes, the suggestion that gays shouldn’t criticize Israel because it’s gay rights record is better than Palestine’s is just absurd. Since when do we abandon queers who are most in need of our support?

    Besides, it’s not as though the near-cancellation of Jerusalem World Pride due to persistent death threats and threats of violence did anything to convince anyone that Israel is a safe haven for gays.

  8. Pingback: Toronto City Councillor: Pride Parade funding should be stripped – National Post | news plus

  9. A few people have thrown out the idea that Israel is not the gay rights oasis that opponents of QuAIA have suggested without any evidence. Well lets see how Israel stacks up against her neighbours in terms of gay rights:

    Well for starters being gay is NOT ILLEGAL which already puts it miles ahead of most of its neighbours (homosexuality is even illegal in the Gaza strip). It has laws aimed at preventing discrimination against homosexuality, which wouldn’t have a purpose in neighbouring countries since homosexuality is ILLEGAL! While Israel does not have same sex marriage (a glaring shortcoming but nonetheless) but it has recognition of same sex partnerships, and allows same sex adoption… which brings me back to the fact that homosexuality is ILLEGAL in neighbouring countries.

    Is Israel perfect? Of course not. Nor is Canada or any other country for that matter. You can’t legislate behaviour and it people in civil society are going to discriminate against gays and lesbians there is only so much the state can do about it. But in terms of degree it is MILES ahead of its neighbours, and for that it should be lauded.

    Now whether that is relevant to QuAIA is a different question. Personally I’ve always found the intense focus on Israel’s human rights abuses while ignoring those of others to be quite odd. When that focus is coming from LGBT folk I find it even odder. But no matter.

    The fact is that Israel cannot be lumped in with the rest of the region in terms of LGBT rights.

  10. “Personally I’ve always found the intense focus on Israel’s human rights abuses while ignoring those of others to be quite odd.”

    If find this constant refrain from anti-Qaia types to be quite odd. I see two gay organizations in Toronto devoted to addressing human rights abuses in Iran. I see gay people participating in free Tibet rallies and protesting Chinese dignitaries when they come to Canada. I see several gay organizations devoted to Aboriginal rights–who are understandably critical of Canada.

    The notion that Israel is singled out is nonsense. The only thing that makes Israel different from the other groups is its supporters’ ferver in trying to censor its critics.

  11. “The notion that Israel is singled out is nonsense.”

    Its not at all nonsense. I spent enough time on University Campus and in progressive circles to see that both the volume and intensity of criticism towards Israel is significantly higher than that directed at other human rights abusers. Iran is criticized but that criticism is far more muted and far less hyperbole is used (how often is Iran accused of “apartheid”, “cleansing”, “genocide”, “murder”, etc.)

  12. Iran was accused of muder when its Basij killed Neda Soltan. It is accused of murder every time it hangs or beheads an accused homosexual. It is not accused of apartheid, cleansing or genocide at this moment because it is not currently engaged in practices that resemble any of these things. You can be certain it will be if it ever does.

    I note that when the massive Twitter campaign erupted around the Iranian election protests, I did not hear any Iranians saying “how come you’re picking on us and not Israel?”

    Every nation must take responsibility for bearing criticism for it’s wrongs.

  13. First of all, I won’t comment on any of the other issues in the article. However, I will comment on the one that has escaped any scorn or comment.

    This whole idea of student representatives taking a stand on issues outside of what they were hired to do is a joke to me. As a former student leader I was there to represent the students on campus that pay fees to the Union for which they were a member of. I, nor any colleague was elected or hired to have an opinion on what transpires in the rest of the world. Student representatives should stick to their mandate and mission. Represent students, not a cause.

  14. “On the other hand, free speech should be upheld as a cherished right. Censorship can be a slippery slope, especially when a selected few are given the authority to decide what is and is not appropriate.”

    It sickens me to think that this is how Freedom of Speech is understood by people today.

    Because no one is compelled to participate in a parade, setting guidelines about what is and is not allowed in a parade cannot possibly be a free speech issue. Plenty of people disagree with many of the messages on display at this parade, and they therefore choose neither to participate nor to spectate. Opponents of “Israeli Apartheid” could likewise have done the same, were their ability to make this claim in the context of the parade “censored.”

    There are still ample opportunities for these folks to make this message outside of this particular parade. There is no “censorship” or “free speech” issue at stake here.

    But out of all the freedoms modern society is willing to trample on, Freedom of Speech enjoys a holy reverence that other human rights, sadly, do not enjoy. So I guess it is really the last bastion of any real discussion about freedom. It is truly sad that we are down to one human right left, but I guess “that’s government, kid.”

  15. Bill, you to are no expert.

    Have you been to Israel?

    I have and that included a visit to the Tel Aviv GLBTQ centre. There we met the executive director, who is also a successful municipal politician who has easily won reelection.

    Furthermore, the centre is the ONLY one in the world that survives 100 per cent on government funding.

    Give your head a shake and get the facts right.


  16. Hey,…Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Dear Students……your parents never bothered about 100 years of African Apartheid. You know why ? Because they were too busy working and struglling to give you an education. Looks like it really paid off, eh ?. Mort L:evy

  17. “The notion that Israel is singled out is nonsense.”

    Are you guys kidding me ? :) you are more than welcome to read a little bit about what’s going on in the UN’s human right comittee (UNHRC). This so called “balanced committee” is made up by an automatic majority of non democratic countries (including Iran) and so, unsurprisingly, this committee hasn’t issue A SINGLE RESOLUTION denouncing Iran’s, Saudi’s (or any other Muslim country’s) Gay discrimination. why? you ask. well, the wonders of majority vote. The EU representative once called the general assembly a place where the majority (which isn’t democratic) can vote the sun to rise from the west…
    Israel? oh well, out of the 22 resolutions passed in the committee in the last 3 years, 18 were against Israel. Mary Robinson called this: “a council adopting resolutions that are guided not by human rights but by politics.”. Israel is singled out. it’s a fact. and Human rights has nothing to do with it.


  18. Ariel, we’re talking about grass roots activists here, not the UN.

    The UN is a completely different situation and certainly not an objective bystander. However, considering that the United Nations created Israel, and thus was clearly once on its side, Israel might consider why the body that gave birth to it now seems to be “picking on it” (if, in fact, it is). Just sayin’.

  19. Robyn, didn’t you graduate this year? or maybe you’re in grad school next year? Just trying to figure out if in fact you did graduate why you’re acting like you’re still a student.

  20. Iran has executed over 4000 individuals practicing hommosexuality… In majority of countries under islamic rule practicing hommosexuality is a punishable offence, enlighten yourselves and look up just how many countries have criminal punishments. In the countries where it is legal there is also of course the vigilante style honor killings that take place. The author was not attempting to say that Israel is a gay haven or even a good place to live in general… just merely that the Israeli government recognizes gay rights and that a huge stride in the middle east

  21. Robyn,

    Everytime I read your work, I am continually baffled by the blatant hipocrisy in the language.

    “So why are my paid student representatives making a decision for me? And worse yet—why are they flaunting it on my behalf?.”

    First of all, people who attend Pride parades are not just representing the schools, but representing themselves. One thing that Robyn failed to mention was that the Ryerson shirts had “My pride is…” and then a blank space where people could write what they wanted to. Some people said against israeli apartheid, some said other stuff. that is the TRUE reflection of our student population. Some feel beleive in one thing, some beleive in another. That shirt is the perfect image of what student represenatives should act like: give people space to say THEIR own messaging.

    I am constantly shocked that you are given this platform to just spew hipocrisy. and am more surprised that people like myself comment on them as if validating what you’re saying. shame on you!
    Secondly, I am fed up with people like yourself Robyn who put student represenatives on a pedestal. Are they not allowed to have lives? opinions? a student represenative who is out at pride Parade on a SUNDAY (outside of work hours btw), who are flaunting what pride means to them personally is not allowed to say what THEIR personal Pride means to them?

  22. Hi Luke,

    I absolutely agree that everyone–even student representatives–should be able to align themselves with any cause they so desire. Indeed, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and should be able to demonstrate support for causes on an individual level. I have a problem, however, when this individual support crosses the line to group representation. You’ll see I mentioned this in the body of my post. The student leaders at the parade on Sunday weren’t marching simply on behalf of themselves, but rather, as representatives of the larger student body. Wearing their student union t-shirts, they marched along the parade route, advocating for something totally unrelated to student issues. By all means, demonstrate your “personal pride;” just not on the student union t-shirt, not on the student union float, and not on the students’ dime.

  23. “Hey,…Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Dear Students……your parents never bothered about 100 years of African Apartheid. You know why ? Because they were too busy working and struglling to give you an education. Looks like it really paid off, eh ?”

    Wow. This post is just profoundly ignorant of the international movement against Apartheid in South Africa. Many people in previous generations worked hard on these campaigns, including boycott, divestment and sanctions movements.

  24. Robyn, still wondering if you graduated or not?

  25. Hi Jason,

    Yes, I graduated about a month or so ago. I don’t believe, however, that disqualifies me from expressing an opinion, especially since my winter tuition receipt shows a mandatory student union fee.

  26. Bill:
    Gays face discrimination in every country. Name one place in the world that is a complete save haven for homosexuals. As far as the israeli government is concerned homosexuals are only missing the right to marry (which is a religious issue that people are trying to figure out).
    What do you know about israeli gay arabs? Because all arabs who live in israel with an israeli citizenship are given all rights regardless of their orientation.
    This word apartheid is being thrown around nowadays like it means nothing. I can be that most of the people who have posted here have never been to israel nor understand any of the key points completely.
    Most arabs who live in israel have citizenship and have full rights as citizens – not to mention that there are arabs in israeli parliament. What apartheid are you talking about? Gaza is not part of israel. If you dont understand why the checkpoints are there then you are just stupid.

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