Monday, June 28, 2010

The Pendulum Swings

Some folks were very excited the other day when Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, a radically anti-Israel group which supports the BDS campaign against the people of Israel (I reject categorizing BDS as anything but a campaign against the people of Israel -- indeed, as anything but a campaign against peaceful coexistence), was allowed to march at a Toronto Pride festival. Organizers (and the Toronto city government, which had provided funding to the march) had previously worried that the group's positions were incompatible with city anti-discrimination ordinances.

Canadian free speech norms are considerably different than American ones, but nonetheless there is a fair case to be made that QuAIA should be allowed to march, and that the proper response to their repulsive, hateful speech would be more speech -- speech that mobilizes the progressive, pro-peace community and demonstrates strong support for both Israeli and Palestinian rights. I do find it disconcerting that some folks seemed excited that QuAIA could march not on free speech principles, but because they sympathized with the particular message QuAIA represents. Nonetheless, that people with hateful views, or people sympathetic to hateful views, happen to line up on the side of an otherwise good principle does not necessarily mean that the principle is worth abandoning -- even where, as here, the group that cries for open speech for itself simultaneously seeks to silence, through the BDS campaign, the voices of those whom it seeks to crush.

But it would be nice to see the principle enforced universally. Fresh off the banning of an Israeli gay organization marching in the Madrid gay pride parade, another pro-Israel gay rights group, StandWithUs, has just been expelled from the U.S. Social Forum under pressure from anti-Zionist groups (StandWithUs's press release is here). The "more speech" element isn't at issue here -- USSF already is marketing itself as a meeting point for anti-Zionist Jews promoting a BDS agenda (once again, the irony). And compounding said irony, the USSF justified its exclusion on the grounds that SWU tries to "censor" pro-Palestinian viewpoints. Alas, it does not seem like, in the queer community, this is the primary problem that needs to be dealt with.

I should add that, like with QuAIA, I don't need to agree with SWU to support a principled free speech position. My brief perusal indicates a lot to dislike -- such as their hit piece on J Street. They are at least marginally better than groups like QuAIA and IJAN insofar as their stated end goal isn't to my eyes facially unjust, although one questions how sincere their devotion is to a two-state solution. But certainly, if we can excuse QuAIA's one-sided and obsessive focus on Israeli wrongs, we can likewise excuse StandWithUs' overwhelming focus on Palestinian wrongs. And at an event like the USSF, it seems like SWU would have provided at least a counterweight to an environment overwhelmingly hostile to Israel and to equal treatment in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.


joe said...

Alas, it does not seem like, in the queer community, this is the primary problem that needs to be dealt with.

You're entitled to your opinion, but I feel like if some gentile blogger made a similar comment about the Jewish community's priorities you would be all over it.

(Not being GLBT myself, I'm not writing this as an offended party. But I do think it's an apparent inconsistency.)

a said...

StandWithUs isn't a gay rights group, they're a pro-Israel group. Why would a group that isn't left-wing want to go to the US Social Forum or expect to be allowed to attend?