After seven years of Palestine solidarity work in LGBTQ communities, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid will officially retire at the end of the month.
QuAIA was formed in 2008, after a public forum during Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Toronto where concerns were raised about “pinkwashing”: Israel’s use of gay rights to divert international attention away from the state’s violation of Palestinian human rights. The small activist group was propelled into international celebrity after the pro-Israel lobby attempted to have Pride Toronto’s funding revoked in order to silence Palestine solidarity voices at the 2010 festival.
Over the last seven years, QuAIA’s accomplishments include:
*Educating Canadians about the conditions of occupation and apartheid policies in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
*Winning rulings under the City of Toronto’s Anti-discrimination Policy, Pride Toronto’s Dispute Resolution Process (under Ontario Arbitration Act), and at an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, that the term Israeli apartheid is a legitimate form of political expression, despite aggressive attempts by the Israel lobby to brand criticism of Israeli government policy and actions as hate speech.
*Making the terms “Israeli apartheid” and “pinkwashing” household words in queer communities in Toronto and around the globe.
*Fighting attacks by several city politicians and lobbyists on Pride funding.
*Sparking a community discussion about freedom of expression, censorship and politics at Pride, which led to a major rejuvenation of the festival and challenged the move to turn Pride into a corporate-driven spectacle geared to tourists.
*Hosting forums, screenings and educational events that built connections and coalitions with other movements for social justice (feminists, anti-Tar Sands activists, First Nations, etc.)
*Inspiring the formation of other QuAIA groups in queer communities around the world, and promoting dialogue and action on transnational queer politics.
Over the past year, however, the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, Canada’s involvement in attempts to suppress the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel and other pressing issues have pulled activist energies in many directions. Most of the original members who came together during QuAIA’s formative years are now working within a variety of fields and organizations within Toronto and internationally, stretching the small group’s resources to continue in its current form.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” explained group member, Tim McCaskell. “But we decided that retiring QuAIA allows us all to develop new strategies for supporting the Palestine solidarity movement and to make new links across oppressions in our communities.”
“QuAIA did exactly what an activist group should do,” said early spokesperson Elle Flanders. “We organized, we shifted public opinion, we raised awareness, we stood in solidarity and created a space for people to talk about Palestine. We did so through targeted campaigns and endless hours of research and outreach.”
“QuAIA has been a trailblazer in building solidarity with Palestine in Canada,” said Ali Abunimah, author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine. “As Israel launched its effort to ‘pinkwash’ its oppression of the Palestinians and falsely market itself as an LGBTQ haven, QuAIA’s work provided an important political analysis that has educated me and many others about what principled solidarity looks like.”
The QuAIA website will be archived and remain on line as a community resource.