R. Jeanette Martin
How disturbing the news is this week that Pride is joining the "strong Israel" disinformation machine and forbidding mentions of "Israeli apartheid'' in the upcoming parade.
It's put me in such despair that I'm going to advance a radical proposal - one many will misread as a sign of failed nerve.
Apologies for paraphrasing authoritarian Lenin, but he did have the wisdom to say "If you can't go through the door, try the window."
I think it's time to try the window; Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, change the name of your organization.
If it sounds like a step-down, consider the meaning of this devastating blow to free expression. Ask yourself whether it's worth being damned and redamned for mere nomenclature and whether an over-attachment to a particular word actually hinders building support for Palestinian human rights.
Yes, yes, I know the electric A word vibrates. It demands attention. It's declarative and rattles the unnerving North American consensus on the Middle East. But I fear the use of it has unmindfully offered a lever to the other side. It's time to declare less and deliver more.
The problem is that the pro-occupation Israel lobby is scoring some stunning victories, and the solidarity movement isn't.
It was scary enough last February when the Ontario Legislature voted to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week (with leftie Cherie DiNovo unfortunately in tow), but now the censorship beast is squatting right in our own grassroots organizations.
To appreciate how badly anti-occupation forces have been outmanoeuvred, consider the trajectory following that February vote. Immediately after, the Toronto District School Board forbade all Israeli Apartheid Week activities. And soon after that, Kyle Rae was writing Pride to review parade entrance requirements, citing the legislative vote and invoking city anti-discrimination policies.
But the snowballing didn't stop there: next, reps for the city's diversity unit were expressing their nervousness about whether some Pride participants would feel excluded by the anti-apartheid contingent and raising the issue of city funding for Pride. The implications of this are staggering: pro-occupation ideologues now have their mitts on the city's fine diversity unit.
All of this makes my skin crawl. The space for allowable discourse shrinks, and now Pride's great celebration is stumbling into a swamp of bitterness and recrimination.
There's a lot at stake here. It's not like there are hordes of groups out there defending the rights of hungry Gaza children, families whose homes have been demolished, Palestinian farmers who've had their groves destroyed and civilians strafed by Israeli air power.
Now the orgs that do exist are on the firing line of a relentless and apparently competent campaign to demonize and sideline them.
Things are not going well. In my way of thinking, the weakness of the "Israeli apartheid'' formulation, quite apart from the interesting debate over whether Israel does or doesn't practise classic apartheid, is that it allows detractors to claim it stigmatizes the whole of the Israeli people.
It's a vulnerability the movement doesn't need. If we hate Israel's addiction to the collective punishment of Palestinians, we ought to be sensitive about suggesting the collective guilt of Israelis.
I know organizers don't wittingly perpetrate this idea; they are always clear that Israel's policies are the problem, and are proud of their ties to Israelis in the peace and human rights camp. But politics isn't all about your motivations; it's also about what your enemies can pin on you.
Would the sky fall if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid became Queers Against the Occupation? Or Queers for Mideast Justice? Or just about anything that would advance the plot on behalf of Palestinians?
Sure, the mainstream Jewish community will still run around yelling that protesters are "singling out Israel'' and are therefore de facto anti-Semites. And Pride marchers sympathetic to Israel's militarism will still be "uncomfortable'' marching alongside a contingent of Israel critics by any other name - probably just as uncomfortable as I am accidentally wandering into the Hamas brigade at Palestinian marches.
But at least we will be removing one dart from the arsenal of a formidable opponent.
At this point, it's better to dig out than dig in.
PROTEST PRIDE CENSORSHIP
Send a message to Pride organizers through queersagainstapartheid.org