More speech, not less, is needed at Pride Toronto

via xtra.ca Pride Toronto’s board and executive appear hapless in the face of threats to their organization’s funding that come with even greater threats to the community’s core values. The ironic attempt to spin censorship as a form of inclusion …

Pride Toronto’s board and executive appear hapless in the face of threats to their organization’s funding that come with even greater threats to the community’s core values. The ironic attempt to spin censorship as a form of inclusion is baffling and Orwellian, especially considering the history of Pride and the struggle for LGBT rights in Toronto and elsewhere. This crisis has the potential to tear Pride Toronto apart at the seams and is a caution to all of us about the state of free speech.

I wanted to add background relevant to the specific use of the words “Israeli apartheid” by QuAIA. Many see these words as inflammatory, which they no doubt are. But are they hate speech? Is there a truth within these words? How can we know unless we have free speech and open discourse?

You don’t have to do much Googling to find factual, intelligent and hate-free analyses that show very effectively and clearly that Israel finds itself at a very difficult crossroads in its history. Perhaps the best recent example of this kind of analysis is that presented recently by John J Mearscheimer: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/mearsheimer300410.html

http://blip.tv/play/AYHapjUC

To summarize the argument: due to demographic factors, the ongoing rejection of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine and a policy aimed at establishing so-called Greater Israel, Israel faces what appears to be an impossible existential dilemma. Either it will continue to be a democratic state or a Jewish state, but it will no longer be able to be both. Israel risks, according to Mearscheimer, becoming an “apartheid state”. It is a grim, but very sober analysis.

The accretion of land in the occupied territories to Israel proper and settler communities along with the buffer zones and control points required for Israeli security create pockets of Bantustans across the West Bank. The lines between Israel and the occupied territories are being intentionally blurred by settlement activity, creating new “facts on the ground” which some Israelis see as important to increase bargaining leverage but are in fact disabling their ability to bargain.

If this “Greater Israel” is a de facto reality now or in the forseeable future, then the nature of that state should be seen plainly for what it is or might become. It is very reasonable to look to apartheid-era South Africa as a comparable kind of state.

This Greater Israel scenario is completely reasonable given an analysis of the available facts and a sober assessment of the probability of a final peace settlement based on the principle of two independent states living side by side. Even many who are defenders of Israel are (or should be) rightly concerned about its slide towards this Greater Israel future as a threat to the vision of modern Israel and an affront to both Jewish and liberal democratic values.

Stating this point of view and using the word apartheid has become a lightening rod for those who would banish this speech as unacceptable or hateful speech. It is clearly political speech. It is definitely aimed at influencing attitudes and opinions on issues of human rights and global politics. But hateful? Most definitely not.

How did we get to this point where freedom of speech and thought can be so threatened within the heart of a community’s celebration of the very ideas of equality and freedom of expression? In the West, in Canada, in Toronto – the most diverse city on the planet?

We should all be concerned about the threat to free and open dialogue this case demonstrates, not only those of us who are queer or have an opinion about the future of Israel and Palestine.

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One thought on “More speech, not less, is needed at Pride Toronto”

  1. Hi, I am a member of QuAIA and just wanted to say thanks for writing such a thoughtful piece on the situation in Palestine/Israel and on QuAIA’s situation here in Toronto.You know, I met John Mearsheimer a few years ago back in Texas and it’s interesting for me to recall that just back in 2007 he wanted to speak out and challenge the Israel lobby in the U.S., but he still embraced the two-state solution as the path forward. At that time he dismissed the one-state approach as a sort of flight of fancy. In just this short amount of time, his views on that have changed considerably. I think it shows how attitudes towards the conflict in the West are changing and we have to keep pushing forward our message demanding justice for the Palestinians.

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