By BILL GLADSTONE
Special to The CJN
For anyone who loves Toronto, the last few days have been pretty hard to bear. The G8/G20 vandals, visigoths and huns were not only at our door, they seemed determined to smash it down on a madcap spree of wanton destruction. We’ve seen police cars torched, store windows smashed, police officers assaulted by a fringe group of rage-fueled radicals hiding like wolves in sheep’s clothing amidst flocks of more peaceful protesters.
When apprehended or detained, the “Black-Bloc” Twitter activists predictably screamed about how their rights to free speech and assembly were being infringed upon, when in fact they were merely using these civil liberties as a cloak for their criminal behaviour. Their contempt for law and order seems just as colossal as their sense of entitlement to rampage and destroy as they please.
In a way, Toronto has lost its virginity in this rampant weekend of broken glass. But guess what? It’s not over yet. Even as we sweep up the sidewalks, we face a very real prospect of more ugliness unfolding here next Sunday July 4.
The Toronto Gay Pride Parade wasn’t supposed to be like this. The annual street party for LGBT rights should be all about celebrating one’s sexual identity as well as embracing the positive values of diversity, inclusiveness and acceptance.
But as many of us have witnessed, Pride has been hijacked by a bullying group of one-issue activists, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (“QuAIA”). QuAIA holds that it is their fundamental right to falsely brand Israel an apartheid state, thereby demonizing Israel and, by extension, the normative Jewish community. The implication is clear: all Jews who support Israel are racists. Many Jewish Torontonians (and there are 200,000 of us in the Greater Toronto Area) say that such malicious labeling makes them feel unwelcome and unsafe at Pride.
As my brother, lawyer Martin Gladstone, pointed out in his powerful documentary film “Reclaiming Our Pride”, QuAIA’s message has absolutely nothing to do with Pride’s mandate and violates the city’s non-discrimination policy. Martin’s film documented QuAIA’s raised fists, military garb, crossed-out swastika and the chant, “Fist by fist, blow by blow, apartheid state has got to go,” which the rabble shouted as they marched. Put plainly, that’s a call for the destruction of Israel in only slightly more veiled language than Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran might use.
Normally, our society permits such reckless and inflammatory rhetoric as the price of free speech. But we have a right to demand more civil discourse when our tax dollars are paying for it. Like all not-for-profits, Pride is obliged to abide by the city’s non-discrimination policy as a condition of funding. You can’t promote hate and intolerance in the public square on public funds.
After city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti introduced a council motion to defund the parade, Pride's board announced it was giving QuAIA -- or at least the term “Israeli Apartheid” -- the boot. On June 9 executive director Traci Sandilands, in a letter explaining the decision, outlined that if Pride allowed QuAIA to stay, it stood to lose funding and sponsorships worth more than $660,000, the participation of more than 50 groups, street permits, and cancellations of large parts of the celebration. She added that Pride faced “immediate bankruptcy" if it allowed QuAIA to march.
Their sole raison-d’etre threatened, QuAIA’s members and supporters screamed censorship when told they must respect the city’s conditions. Under the ridiculous premise that their civil rights had been curtailed, they roused supporters and caused a ruckus. Ultimately, they managed to convince Pride they were not really a poison pill after all and might easily be swallowed without fatal consequences.
All this happened on the quiet, as Pride was happily taking the city’s cheque for $123,000 to the bank. Only then did it announce, with truly breathtaking duplicity, that it was going to readmit QuAIA back into the parade. Mammoliti and the city councillors who backed his motion are understandably outraged at what Mammoliti has described as a purposeful deceit, and have put forth another motion demanding repayment. Torontonians should let their city councillors know that they regard Pride's "take the money and run" behaviour as unethical and scandalous.
Many city residents feel angry and upset. The Jewish community has a right to feel gratuitously antagonized, and abandoned by Mayor David Miller, who failed to provide the vitally needed leadership that should have been there from the beginning. If this had happened under Mel Lastman's watch, he never would have put up with QuAIA's antics for a moment.
Instead of voting with their feet by keeping away, the gay Jewish group Kulanu, the Canadian Jewish Congress and a host of other organizations are calling for more Jewish participation at Pride, not less. “We don’t like to surrender ground to the extremists,” Congress CEO Bernie Farber explained. Kulanu and many others plan to march with banners proudly proclaiming solidarity with Israel, the biggest champion of gay rights in the Middle East. But as some have observed, QuAIA’s divisive and hateful messaging promotes a “punch-counter punch” culture that, if tempers get inflamed, could be taken too literally by some in attendance.
Members of the Jewish Defense League of Canada and other defenders of Israel have also announced they are planning to be at the parade “to confront Pro Hamas hate.” Participants are being encouraged to bring signs to “expose the murder of gays in Islamic countries.”
Hopefully, push won’t come to shove this Sunday and things won’t turn out as they did in August 1933, when some foolish young punks unfurled a swastika flag at a baseball game involving a Jewish team in Toronto’s Christie Pitt Park. Perhaps you've heard of Toronto's Christie Pitt riot? The fighting went on for three days.