Thursday, May 21, 2009
A Queer kind of ignorance emerging in Toronto
Next month, from June 19 to 28 to be exact, the city of Toronto will host one of the country's most anticipated cultural events: Pride Week 2009, two weeks of fun-filled activities celebrating gay culture and its continuing emancipation from those in the "mainstream" who would denigrate it and try to shame those whose only crime is to be born with a sexual orientation different than the majority hetero populace.
So what's the problem? Well, it's one the Jewish community knows all too well: anti-Israel rhetoric designed to breed vilification of the Jewish state at all costs, even at the cost of truth.
In this case, a group calling itself "Queers Against Israeli Apartheid" has been advocating hard in the local LGBT community to "reignite Toronto’s queer community in the fight against apartheid," according to the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Web site.
The group goes on to claim that Israel "has now begun to frame itself as a tolerant, queer-positive democracy. This can never be reality under occupation."
They're scheduled to hold their next meeting this Saturday, May 23. No doubt to calmly, and rationally discuss their political views on Israel with an open mind.
To boot, the meeting is scheduled to open with remarks by El-Farouk Khaki, a gay Toronto Muslim lawyer and the 2009 Parade Grand Martial. His organization, Salaam, is sponsoring the meeting.
(Salaam, btw, describes itself as "a Muslim Identified Organization dedicated to social justice, peace and human dignity through its work to bring all closer to a world that is free from injustice, including prejudice, discrimination, racism, misogyny, sexism and homophobia." Mr. Khaki, this is a noble endeavour. But could you openly set up shop in Gaza if you wanted to? The answer, one suspects, is no. And not because of anything Israel has to say about it. Because civil society in Gaza is called Hamas, which brooks no homosexuality under its strict interpretation of Islam.)
Umm... where to start?
Look, I have no problem with people expressing political views about Israel or Judaism, even if I find them abhorrent and devoid of any context or fact. These guys can go march on city hall, the provincial legislature and Parliament Hill until the cows come home. It's a free country.
But it's just galling to have to watch as one of the (ostensibly) most inclusive, tolerant and joyful cultural communities slowly becomes co-opted by anti-Israel agitators who out and out lie about Israel's own Pride community - with its own yearly parade - and the fact that it's the only one in the Middle East whose rights are protected and free from persecution by authorities.
I defy Mr. Khaki, or anyone else, to tell his disciples where those same rights exist for Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank? Libya? Saudi Arabia? Syria? Iraq? Iran?
Is Israel a "perfect" country? No. But show me one that is. Is the issue of Palestinian-Israeli relations fraught with competing narratives and heightened tensions? Sure. And there's been blood spilled on both sides that begs for vengeance. Yet Israel seeks peace, while the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel at all costs. Will there ever be a solution? Only Hashem knows.
But is being openly gay in Israel - whether Arab, Jew or Christian - acceptable in the Holy Land - yes. Even if some religious parties and citizens disagree.
In fact, just last week, Israeli Member of Knesset Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) called on the Palestinian Authority "to halt the persecution of homosexuals within its territory, and said Israel should provide gay Palestinian refugees with sanctuary," according to a Ynet report.
In fact, until 2007, Israel was the only country in Asia where homosexuals were protected by anti-discrimination laws. And it remains the only country in the Middle East to provide such legal protection.
So to all those Queers Against Israeli Apartheid folks: get your facts straight and stop taking at face value all the half-truths and twisted logic of your would-be leaders.
There are a myriad of problems in Israel and you may not agree with its policies on many things, including Palestinians, but you would be free to go there and openly demonstrate against it with the rainbow flag proudly draped across your shoulders, armed with the knowledge you were an equal in the eyes of the law. Think about that next time you're told how "evil" Israel is. You're being duped. All your years of struggle for equality in North America are betrayed when you choose to believe these insipid morsels of falsehood.
Israel is a progressive democracy. The only one in the Middle East. It doesn't "occupy" the Palestinian people. It doesn't practice Apartheid politics. It defends itself as best it can from terrorism and radical Islam. It wants to coexist peacefully with its neighbours. But it will not do so by laying down and ceasing to exist. What country would?
And yes, it also defends its gay community.