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Friday, July 25, 2014

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Funding for Pride in question

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For the many pro-Israel Jewish gay and lesbian community members and their supporters, this year’s parade was more festive than those of the last few years, mainly because it was not attended by controversial group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

QuAIA made good on its promise to city hall and Pride Toronto’s executive not to march in or crash this year’s parade, to guarantee that Pride would receive city funding of a nearly $130,000 grant plus close to $250,000 of in-kind funds for security and cleanup services.

Pride organizers had also agreed to remove any QuAIA interlopers from the parade this year.

City council had warned Pride Toronto that this year it would provide funding only after it was determined that QuAIA had not marched in the parade.

While the group did not march, its anti-Israel message was on prominent display on Sunday, July 4, the day of the parade, when members of QuAIA unfurled a 40-foot banner off the Wellesley subway station that read: “Support Palestinian queers – boycott Israeli tourism.”

In a separate incident the day before, at Pride’s Dyke March, a group calling itself Dykes and Trans People for Palestine was spotted carrying signs reading “Israeli apartheid.”

Toronto Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti caught the signs on film and has since stated he believes city funding should be withheld from Pride organizers because of the group’s activities and he will ask Mayor Rob Ford his opinion.

Calls by the paper to the mayor’s office were not returned by deadline.

Despite these actions, Jewish community leaders and a prominent Jewish city councillor felt the parade was much better this year.

“Our only concern was ensuring that the event not serve as a platform for Israel-bashing and delegitimization efforts directed against the Jewish state. Indeed, QuAIA was not part of the Pride parade, so we are satisfied and appreciative that the organizers appear to have lived up to their undertaking,” said Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Canadian Council for Jewish and Israel Advocacy.

Justine Apple, executive director of Kulanu Toronto, the city’s main Jewish gay and lesbian organization, said she and her members were also satisfied with this year’s parade.

She said the events at the Dyke March and the QuAIA banner made some of her members feel “unwelcome.”

“That was just another way for them to spew anti-Israel sentiment and it should never have been at the parade,” she said. But that sentiment was overshadowed by the celebratory mood at Pride this year. “We feel it’s important that Pride remain about celebration, tolerance and inclusivity.”

Asked whether Kulanu feels the city should withhold this year’s funding as a result of the QuAIA banner and the presence of other fringe anti-Israel groups at the parade this year, Apple said she “respectfully disagrees” with Mammoliti’s position. Her organization wants Pride to get its money.

“Because QuAIA did stay out of the parade, their stain was removed this year and people were able to celebrate. By all counts, it was a successful day,” she said.

James Pasternak, the city councillor for Ward 10 York Centre, told The CJN he also disagrees with Mammoliti’s call to withhold funding.

He said there’s still “a lot of work to do” to educate the public about QuAIA’s messaging and encourage Pride Toronto’s executive to continue training its staff and event marshals “so that they fully understand what’s acceptable and what’s not.

“That said, we’ve made a lot of progress since last year. I would think it’s unwise for the [city] to yank the funding and potentially reverse some of the progress we’ve made,” he said. “Remember, our goal is to make sure the demonizing and discriminatory phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ is taken out of the public sphere in publicly funded events.”

He said most of his fellow councillors also feel progress was made since last year and that Pride Toronto followed the parameters set out by city council this year.

Pasternak said he will seek to convene a debriefing session between the city and Pride organizers to determine what went “right and what didn’t” at Pride this year.

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