Friday, May 28, 2010

Booting out Queers against Israeli Apartheid

On July 4th Toronto will hold it’s 30th annual Pride Parade. Approximately 500,000- 1 million people attend the event to celebrate the many gay and lesbian groups that march through the streets of Toronto in honor of the proud gay community in Toronto. However, this year is not without it’s controversy; one that is forcing the entire city into discussion. The other day Pride Toronto declared that the group “Queers against Israeli Apartheid” cannot march in the parade under this name, although the members themselves are welcome to the event. The decision was made because the Gay Pride committee was pressured by the City of Toronto, who have threatened to cut their funding if QuAIA participate in the festivities. The City believes that the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ amounts to both hate and discrimination against Toronto’s Jews and Israelis. Without this essential funding provided by the city, Gay Pride will not have enough money to run the parade, therefore explaining their decision to exclude the group.

What do I have to say about this?? THANK YOU GAY PRIDE! (and the city of Toronto) Why though? Isn’t my siding with Gay Pride only supporting the censorship of free speech and ideas?? Is it best to allow such a group, despite disagreeing with their ideas, only to defend our core values of democracy? I have struggled with this question, however after doing research on the group and spending hours angrily sifting through QuAIA’s website and thinking about the point of the parade, I think that this decision is correct.

It is becoming well known that Israel Apartheid Weeks in Universitys across North America are becoming increasingly popular, and are becoming more of a venue for blatant antisemitism and hatred towards Israel, rather than fair and constructive criticism against state policies and actions. Jews have become more threatened, and feel as though they are outsiders within their own campuses. While Israel Apartheid Week is secluded to University campus, and therefore University students, what makes this incident in Toronto so interesting is that even though QuAIA may appear to concern only a limited number of people, they are staging their politics (rather than their personal sexual orientations) in front of Toronto and Canada’s media, splashing themselves in news stories and newspaper articles. They are gathering protesters, gay and straight, who believe in their cause, rather than the gay issues. While they attempt to explain that only with equal rights for Palestinians within the occupied territories (not sure how they believe this should come about) can gay rights be fought for. However, their ties are sloppy and unconvincing. Their website looks more like an advertisement against Israel than it does for advocacy for advancing gay pride or rights. They provide a completely one-sided approach on the conflict in the middle east, with large holes in their “history” section. Forgetting my own knowledge of history and reading their website alone, I too would be outraged at the atrocities Israel has supposedly committed. Their website features a video, Who We Are?, that splashes probably as many Jews as they could find in order to legitimize themselves as a cause against Israel, not Jews. Yet the video also provides no intellectual and reasonable explanation on supposed “apartheid in Israel”. One Jew proclaims that Israel must be an apartheid because she never heard the word Palestinian or occupation in her “Zionist education system”. Others just claim that their visits to the West Bank were similar to South Africa.

I think that University students, above all else, know the atmosphere that these types of groups are attempting to create. QuAIA its trying to inject themselves into the gay pride parade as a large venue to spew their anti-Israel ignorance. If the pride parade wants to be inclusive, it should attempt to include these gay and lesbian members, but not as part of a propagandist group that makes many more people feel attacked and excluded.

If one were to agree that gay rights for Palestinians is of utmost importance for the gay community here in North America, than in my opinion there are many more obstacles than “Israeli apartheid”. Considering that both Fatah and Hamas are Muslim movements, I’m guessing that neither of their platforms would be too friendly towards homosexuals, probably close to how Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia treat homosexuals… not with much acceptance. Is this not a fight worth fighting? Further, why is it that in order to fight for Palestinian gay rights QuAIA decides to politically attack Israel (through it’s bias and uninformed doctrines) through it’s labeling it an apartheid. The word screams with a certain heaviness that motivates the uninformed bystander to side against Israel. (THE POINT) Wouldn’t it be more constructive to name the group, “Queers for Palestinian gay rights”? I suppose I just don’t understand that if one opposes the status-qua of Israel today, as many Zionist do, would we not ask how can we go about to improve the situation? Should we not be searching for a solution to this conflict, whether that means supporting the 2 state or 1 state solutions, or engineering a creative new answer. However, QuAIA are satisfied enough with spreading lies and hatred against Israel rather than seeking or supporting a solution. And I thought we Canadians were supposed to be the polite ones?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The beautiful Golan Heights

This week my group took a little trip up to the Golan Heights. We spent one night in a hotel and two days hiking and sight seeing around the area. On the first day, we went to Mt. Bental, an old inactive volcano that houses an old army barrack turned tourist attraction. The mountain is renowned for its amazing view that seemingly stretches out forever featuring both Syria and the rest of the Golan. As I stood high above gazing into the magnificent sight of the mountains, watching their enormous bodies stare back at me, I could not help but feel awed by the scene. It’s easy to forget that I’m looking into two countries that hate each other. Only the beautiful stands out and only the peaceful overcomes you. Ironic, considering that just to my left is the old IDF bunker and that many tour guides, including mine, share a little lecture about the 1967 war. They tell the story of how Syrian tanks lined the border coming into Israel but in the end little ol’ Israel defended their territory and gained the Golan Heights. All the Israelis wanted was to work their little piece of land and put bread on their tables, while the Syrians were foaming at the mouth with war thoughts. The tour guide reminds us that the situation is the same today, as Syrian leaders are throwing threats of war at Israel (despite the fact that the border has been relativelyquiet for years now and Israel is throwing threats of war right back at Syria). Inevitably, even at the most beautiful viewpoint, politics seep in.

Our tour guide also reminds us that 78% of Israelis do not approve of giving up land for peace with the Syrians. They understand that this swap would be the loss of the Golan Heights, the incredible place in which I was standing. This is the loss of a gorgeous area that is great for vacationing in return for a peace that is not assured. Israelis have Gaza as a model to provide them with skepticism on the “success” of giving up land for apparent peace. I suppose this cynicism is warranted. Perhaps it is because Gaza is so fresh in their minds that land for peace isn’t memorable. But we also have to remember that Israel has swapped land for peace with both Egypt and Jordan, and both of these peace agreements are lasting.

The benefits of peace with Syria are numerous. In fact, these benefits have been the focus in the news lately as the situation with Iran heats up. Peace with Syria is not just peace with Syria but can also be seen within a larger context. It holds the potential to shift power in the Middle East. Iran is perceived as one of Israel’s largest threats because of it’s nuclear ambitions and incredibly hostile attitude towards Israel. Syria is one of its great allies. Forging peace with Syria would help isolate Iran therefore decreasing its threat against Israel. Furthermore peace with the Palestinians has currently hit a brick wall; Bibi and Abbas have yet to return to the bargaining table and even Obama has lost hope. By focusing on Syria and making peace with them, it might help motivate and encourage the entire peace movement, restoring faith in peace negotiations.

Syria has said it is willing to go back to the negotiating table. This is not a guarantee for peace, only an attempt at it. However, this feat has fewer challenges than those with the Palestinians. Yet, if there is one thing that is a guarantee, it is that for peace to come, the Golan will have to go. Goodbye to wineries, ski resorts, brewers, vacationing, gorgeous views, and the overall pride in gaining the Golan during the ‘67 war. While this may seem impossible for many to give up, I think it’s worth a try if the ultimate goal is peace. The situation is not guaranteed, the path is not easy, and the consequences are hazy, but for peace and prospects of stability, are we not willing to jump mountains??

Mt. Bental

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

For Jerusalem

Elie Wiesel is considered one of today’s biggest spokesperson on the lessons on the Holocaust. He teaches generations of people about the danger of discrimination against any kind of group. His inspiring story and brave soul has been a source of inspiration for people all over world. I heard Wiesel speak a few years back at the UN rally on September 22, 2008 protesting against Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN. Wiesel’s speech was inspiring, as he spoke about the world’s responsibility to speak up against a man who incites hatred against the Jewish state and who suppresses the freedoms of his own people in Iran. This is why Elie Wiesel’s recent full page ad in the Washington Post really surprised me.

Perhaps I’m feeling a touch of disappointment in what I accepted as something more from a wonderful man. The last thing I would want to do is de-valuate his work, however I am inclined to think critically on his latest statements, of which I disagree. I find myself in agreement with the “leftists” that spoke against Wiesel on his recent ad. What ad am I talking about? In his ad, “For Jerusalem”, Wiesel argues on the sensitivity of Jerusalem, and says that, “Jerusalem must remain the spiritual capital of the world’s Jews, and should serve as a symbol of faith and hope – not as a symbol of sorrow and bitterness”. He argues that no one should pressure Israel on the debate of Jerusalem, and that discussions on it, should be postponed. WAIT- who is this talking Elie Wiesel or Netanyahu?

Wiesel bases his argument on the importance, sanctity and holiness of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. He writes, “It (Jerusalem) is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Quran… Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming.” Well if we are going to dictate our political discussions of land on Jewish history and importance, can’t we argue that Jews are more entitled to the West Bank than they are to say.. Tel Aviv? Hebron after all is the second holiest place in Judaism- if anything then can’t Tel Aviv, with no Jewish historical significance, be considered territorialsm?

Therefore, we must factor in the realities of today in order to access the current situation. Wiesel knows better than anyone that we can never predict what lies in the future, and therefore that our responsibilities lie in the today. If, as he always mentions, we strive for world peace and justice, than how can we ignore the justice for Palestinians? As Gideon Levy writes in a recent article in Haaretz about what Wiesel misses when speaking about Jerusalem, “Not about the need for an end to the occupation, not about the opportunity to establish a just peace (and a just Israel ), not about the outrageous injustice to the Palestinians. Only perpetuating the occupation.” How can we therefore continue to postpone the hottest topic in the debate for peace in the Middle East? Can we forget about the borders of a future state? Further, can we sincerely declare that every street in East Jerusalem, which is mainly inhabited by Palestinians, is the same Jerusalem our ancestors prayed to for years back? Or is it not true that through our modern years, we have extended the borders of what we call Jerusalem, and therefore what we call holy. As we extend the border of holy, we extend the borders of what we can’t touch and what we can’t give up. However, the idea of “Jerusalem” 200 years ago, was only the old city.

Wiesel ends his ad with the beautiful quote, “Jerusalem is the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul”. I couldn’t agree more with this quote- however not in the context it is being used. A divided Jerusalem isn’t a divided heart, or a divided soul, but rather a purer one and a more just one. An occupation simply stains the soul, stains the heart and threatens peace.