One on One with Avi Benlolo: February 25, 2011
1/ The Community Advisory Panel (CAP) on Gay Pride in Toronto recently came out with a 200+ page report containing myriad recommendations on how Pride should operate in the future. Yet the only decision the panel made concerning the hate group Queers against Israeli apartheid (Quaia) was to refer the matter to a yet to be created Dispute Resolution Committee. Isn’t this yet another example of the gay community failing to address the issue?
I think the Committee actually did try to address the issue; they did a lot of good research in their report. For instance, they clearly identified that anti Israel protests have nothing to do with Pride, they proposed that there be some kind of vetting system to be used by the organization, and said there should be an antidiscrimination policy to address groups that feel victimized. They also noted that if Pride continues along the same route of keeping Quaia or other hateful anti Israel protesters it will cost Pride financially and possibly bring it to the brink of collapse because sponsors will withdraw their support. So they’ve clearly identified the problem, which I’m very happy about.
On the other hand it seems that they have left the decision about what to do with Quaia to someone else when they are supposed to be the advisory group; they should have come out clearly with a recommendation to either include or ban Quaia from the Gay Pride parade. This lack of direction may actually have a more damaging impact because this situation could mean Quaia is once again allowed in the parade, as I doubt any decision will be made between now and June. This will obviously affect city funding and other sources of funding of the parade, so the CAP committee had not performed a service in their quest to be politically correct and perhaps non offensive to anyone. The committee has failed to make an absolute decision one way or the other which is unfortunately going to leave Pride in limbo and the community polarized.
2/ As waves of unrest continue to wash over the Arab world, is there not some level of hypocrisy shown by groups like Quaia, which continue to target Israel but ignore the true brutality of Arab regimes throughout the Middle East?
It’s a good question because I think that if we look at what FSWC has been saying about these types of groups and campaigns all along, it was never really about human rights. It was and is a cover for antisemitism and now the whole world should be able to see the truth of that; it’s quite obvious and apparent that there are dictators throughout the Arab world that abuse and starve their people, disallow freedom of movement, the press, religion and sexual orientation. It is clear and beyond doubt that picking on Israel is groundless and baseless, and can only be ascribed to antisemitism and the quest to destroy the state of Israel.
3/ As campuses across Canada prepare for two weeks of anti Israel slogans and speeches during Israel apartheid week, how can the Jewish community respond?
I actually don’t think the responsibility for a response is confined only to the Jewish community and I’m glad to see that over the course of the past number of years many statements have been made by the Prime Minister, his cabinet ministers, by the opposition and members of the Liberal party, by provincial leaders and Members of Provincial Parliament and by many distinguished community officials outside of the Jewish community against the hatred promoted during this antisemitic campaign. It’s clear that most universities resent the students and the community organizations that are supporting Israel apartheid week, and these groups have suffered tremendously by being marginalized from Canadian society. Many of them have been defunded by government and other organizations, and universities themselves that haven’t responded appropriately have lost many donors because of this issue; this is not a ‘Jewish’ problem- this is a societal problem that is forcing democratic western societies to consider whether there are limits to free speech, and how is it that we can live together harmoniously and peacefully here in Canada without bringing the conflicts of other countries onto our campuses.
4/ As the Muslim world continues to press for freedom and democracy, do you think that democratic reform will lead to peace or further repression, as we’ve seen in Gaza?
The answer is simple- we have seen too many circumstances already where dictators have been voted in. We saw that in Gaza which is now being ruled by a dictatorship, as is the West Bank where none of the leadership was voted in by the people. In Lebanon there was a silent coup that took place with Hezbollah taking over and the elected Prime Minister being removed. So this has been a trend and everybody is watching it very carefully. We are hopeful there will be real and true peace and democracy, but it’s hard to say.
5/ FSWC made a very important declaration today when it was announced that Robert Gibbs is the Mystery Guest- the final speaker rounding out the Spirit of Hope 2011 panel. What makes Mr. Gibbs such an exciting guest?
Obviously Robert Gibbs was, other than President Obama, the most visible cabinet member of the Obama presidency over the last two ears. He attended all cabinet meetings and spoke on behalf of the President to the world, so having him on this panel connects us immediately to the President and to Obama’s decisions, many of which were controversial, especially concerning Israel. Having the ability to ask Mr. Gibbs directly about some of the President’s decisions about Israel and other world events is a unique and inspiring opportunity.