Bans, Boycotts and Where Do We Go From Here? III
Wayves has received a correction to this article from Ramona Westgate, Past Chair of Halifax Pride. Ramona points out: "I'd yet again like to clarify that protesters at the 2014 [Community Fair] were never asked to leave the grounds or dissent from protesting. The protesters were simply asked to move back a few feet from the booth."
In writing this series, I have relied on my own memory wherever I haven't found external sources. Memory is a watery platform on which to stand, like Heraclitus river, one never quite steps into the same memory twice. In this case I was reying on a memory of something I'd been told, as I did not witness the protest. I have altered any references to protesters to conform with Ramona's eye withess account.
It has never been my intent to undermine anyone's reputation. Saving our disagreeing on how Pride handled this one issue, I thought Ramona Westgate was a very good Chair, and that she brought to Halifax Pride a stronger focus on community.
These articles reflect no one's opinions but my own. While I am an unpaid volunteer with Wayves, I do not speak for Wayves. I speak only for myself. Indeed, the beauty of Wayves to me is that it allows any and all members of our community who so wish to speak in their own voice.
Unlike myself, who is allowed the luxurious benefit of hindsight, Ramona and the 2014 Halifax Pride Board had to make their decisions about the AJC's participation within a short space of time and on the spot.
I apologize without reservation to my former colleague,Ramona, for getting it wrong about Pride's response to the protesters against the AJC. The whole purpose of these articles has been, not to increase divisions or distort the past. Rather, through examining the issues raised by the 2016 AGM and asking tough questions of ourselves and of our instutions, to come to a better understanding of what community means for us, indivdually and collectively, and to support truth and reconciliation, restorative justice, and the resolving of conflicts.
If I cannot do myself what I'm asking of others, I have no business writing or publishing these articles at all. Thank you, Ramona, for helping me acknowledge and correct my error and hopefully repairing any unintended harm. -- Hugo Dann.
By Hugo Dann
How Did We Get Here?
"My rights cannot be subject to your feelings."
- -- SA 'Ed ATSHAN
In its thoughtful and (I fully believe) sincere apology to the community, Halifax Pride delves no deeper into the past than the current Board’s involvement with the AJC. However concerns and protests have been constant since AJC’s first display of materials from the Size Doesn’t Matter campaign at Halifax Pride in 2014.
To try and understand why the responses of previous Pride Boards, particularly from 2014 to the recent AGM, seem so unsatisfactory, we need to look at our history and how the LGBTQ movement became international.
One could conceivably go as far back as Germany and Europe before Hitler, but our post-Stonewall international awareness really began with the global struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the pioneering work of one man, South African activist, Simon Tseko Nkoli. Simon Nkoli was the queer voice of the South Arrican resistance in the 1980s. His leadership, his constant globe-trotting appearances marked a milestone in the creation of a world-wide, borderless queer movement. The axiom "If one of us is chained, none of us are free" made us all involved in rights and safety of Queer/Trans communiities around the world.
This international outlook soon led to an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Queer thinkers and artists such as Judith Butler, John Greyson, and AIDS-Activist and novelist Sarah Schulman taled about Palestinian rights in a queer context. For Queer/Trans Canadians we became aware of the issue in 2009 largely through the impact of the Toronto group known as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) and its stormy involvement with Toronto Pride (TP).
The term "Israeli Apartheid" is meant to be provocative in that it draws an analogy between Israel's state policies and practices towards Palestinians and the reviled policies of the white supremacist regime of South Africa, (you can read more about the history the and pro and con reactions to the use of the phrase here).
This is probably the right point in this article to reveal my own biases, although they're already a matter of public record. I absolutely support the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself within the generally acknowledged boundaries of conflict: Civilians, hospitals, schools all off limits.
Nevertheless, I accept the term Israeli Apartheid as a legitimate analogy that accurately describes the Israeli Government's treatment of Palestinians in Israel itself, in Gaza, and in the illegally occupied territories of the West Bank.
I have participated in artist-driven protests against Israel's state policies, including readings of Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children and, while I've never sought or supported a ban, I have protested against the materials displayed at the AJC booth since their first appearance at Halifax Pride in 2014. Much more onbans and boycotts in Part 4 when we examine the issues through the lens of civil liberties such as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Association.
Following on QuAIA's participation in the 2009 Toronto Pride Parade there was a significant pushback from supporters of Israel's government who called for QuAIA to be banned from participating in Pride Week. They also classified the phrase "Israeli Apartheid” as inherently anti-semitic hate speech.
There was a firestorm of controversy. Sponsors of Toronto Pride, including TD Bank, threatened to withdraw their support. Right-wing politicians (including Mayor Rob Ford who had always chafed against funding queer organizations like Pride and Buddies in Bad Times), saw an opportunity to defund Toronto Pride of its municiopal funding.
City council asked the City Manger to investigate and prepare a report on whether or not the phrase "Israli Apartheid was indeed hate speech. Toronto Pride responded to these potential threats by banning the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" from use in the Parade and at any TP events, effectually banning QuAIA.
After enormous pressure from an ad hoc group made up of concerned community members , prominent activists, academics, and leaders in LGBTQ community organizations came together as the Pride Coalition for Freedom of Speech, and with barely a week to go before Pride, TP rescinded its ban and QuAIA marched in the parade with its supporters.
In April 2011, the City Manager released their report: [The] " participation of QUAIA in the Pride Parade based solely on the phrase 'Israeli Apartheid' does not violate the City’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. The City also cannot therefore conclude that the use of term on signs or banners to identify QuAIA constitutes the promotion of hatred or seeks to incite discrimination contrary to the Code."
- Joe Pennachetti, City Manger Toronto.
The report exonerated both QuAIA and Pride's decision to suspend the ban. Regardless, Mayor Rob Ford declared his intention to defund Pride despite the City Manager's report.
Shortly thereafter, Elle Flanders speaking for QuAIA announced that they would not be marching in the 2011 Parade, “Rob Ford wants to use us as an excuse to cut Pride funding, even though he has always opposed funding the parade, long before we showed up. By holding our Pride events outside of the parade, we are forcing him to make a choice: fund Pride or have your real homophobic, right-wing agenda exposed." Ed.’s note. Source: Wikipedia.
QuAIA returned to the parade in 2012. The constant battles with supporters of Israel's policies were exhausting, and in 2015 the Toronto group disbanded, after seven years of activism.
I was dumbfounded when I learned in 2014 that Halifax Pride had licensed the Atlantic Jewish Council to promote LGBTQ tourism to Tel Aviv at the Community Fair, including Pinkwashing materials from Size Doesn’t Matter. There were protests against te AJC's materials, pritesers were asked to move a few feet back from the booth to allow access, and there were no major disruptions.
Quite apart from the enormous strain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had Iplaced on their sister organization, what did Halifax Pride imagine the AJC's presence would achieve?
When confronted at a community meeting about the pro-Israeli government presence, Pride circled the wagons, refusing to discuss any internal debates tthe Board had held with respect to this politically hot and divisive issue.issue.
Had they consulted with Halifax QuAIA? Had they discussed parity, with a booth for for QuAIA or others who advocated for peace based on a return to negotiations and the two-state solution? Did they consider refusing the AJC’s application on thegrounds of public safety?
Given the very public fallout from Toronto Pride’s experience with mid-east conflict, what, if any lessons did the 2014 Board of Halifax Pride take from that debacle and how did they apply them to their own decision making?
Asking what was informing Halifax Pride’s decision-making was a reasonable question to ask. In my opinion their incomplete answers in 2014 may have fostered a guardedness between the community tand one of our largest institutions. There was no movement at that time from Halifax Pride to heal the conflict, and like any untreated wound it’s festered till this day.
As a 3X Past Chair of Halifax Pride, I’ve often imagined how I might have dealt with an application from the AJC. What options would I have put to the Board? Indulge me a moment.
I like to think our first action would have been to call a community meeting to ask for guidance, inviting both the AJC and QuAIA.
Not being a fan of bans or boycotts before other options have been explored, I believe I would have suggested we accept the application but with conditions:
1. Halifax Pride will provide access to the Pride Parade and Community Fair free of charge so as not to be as profiting in any way from a violent conflict situation.
2. We will offer equal access on the same terms to QuAIA or another organization representing Palestinian issues. Neither the pro-Israeli group nor thepro- Palestinian group will be invited to participate without the participation of the other.
3. All parties: Pride; AJC; QuAiA will agree to meet regularly until all issues of placement (Parade & Fair); number of volunteers at booths, placing of community protests, security for all participants and visitors, etc. are fully understood and accepted by all parties.
4. Failure to arrive at an agreement will bar both groups from participation.
5. Any infraction of the agreement by either party will result in the immediate removal of both parties with a 14 month deferral before either party can reapply, at which point the above conditions would again come into force.
Of course this is nothing more than me day-dreaming with hindsight. But is the idea of parity so off-base? I'm no expert in conflict resolution, but there such experts in Halifax, and I'm sure they could finesse ways in which such a process might work. But is the idea of parity so off-base? While not exaxtly conflict resolution it does bring two conflicted groups into a mutual dependacy reliant on their both complying with agreed upon conduct. If one side loses, they both do. If they both succeed, they're both winners.
Author's note: This the third in a series of articles dealing with the Halifax Pride AGM. Part 4 will deal with Freedom of Speech and the author's aversion to bans and boycotts.