Coming Out Against Apartheid

A Roundtable about Queer Solidarity with Palestine

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) is a Toronto-based group working in solidarity with Palestinians. The group formed in 2008 in response to Brand Israel, a public relations campaign that (among other things) paints Israel as a safe haven for queers in the Middle East. In 2010, QuAIA had to contend with Pride Toronto’s1 decision to ban the words “Israeli apartheid” from use during the Toronto Pride parade. Faced with mounting pressure to respect and uphold the right to free speech, Pride Toronto reversed its ban and QuAIA marched with its biggest contingent ever. Since then, the group has refocused its energy on education and outreach. Robyn Letson sat down with four members of QuAIA to discuss the group’s history, the potential for revitalizing radical queer movements in Toronto, and the implications of queer anti-colonial solidarity work.

Richard Fung is a video artist and writer. He co-founded Gay Asians Toronto and was a member of Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa (TCLSAC). He teaches at OCAD University.

Natalie Kouri-Towe is a Toronto-based activist completing her PhD in the department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE and the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. She researches transnational queer activism against war, occupation, apartheid, and the politics of solidarity. Originally from Montreal, she has worked in the community sector for over 10 years.

Tim McCaskell is a gay activist, educator, and writer. He was editor of The Body Politic, chair of the Public Action Committee of the Right to Privacy Committee, member of the Simon Nkoli Anti-Apartheid Committee, and founding member of AIDS ACTION NOW. He worked at the Toronto Board of Education developing and delivering anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and anti-sexual harassment programs for over 20 years.

Corvin Russell is a writer and activist living in Toronto, and working mostly on Indigenous solidarity and language survival.

How did QuAIA come into existence and what brought you to the organization?

Natalie: I’ve been a member of QuAIA since the winter of 2009. I came to QuAIA after spending many years thinking about my relationship to Palestine solidarity organizing and queer activism. I was a speaker at one of QuAIA’s first public events, called “Queer against Apartheid: Coming Out Against the Occupation and Reclaiming Our Voices,” in January 2009. Through my participation in that event, I decided to get involved with the group as an organizer.

QuAIA emerged out of conversations that took place during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in Toronto in 2008. People expressed the need for a queer response to Israeli apartheid. A small group of people met a few times and, in the summer of 2008, many of them marched with one of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals in the Toronto Pride Parade. They got some trash thrown at them and a little bit of media attention. After that, not much happened until QuAIA hosted an event in May 2009 called “20 Years of Queer Resistance from South Africa to Palestine.” That event featured Tim McCaskell, who made explicit connections between queer activism against Israeli Apartheid and queer activism by the Simon Nkoli Anti-Apartheid Committee during the 1980s. A few weeks later, in June, The National Post announced that we had been banned from marching in the Pride parade. This was news to us since we hadn’t even applied! That prompted QuAIA to apply to see if we would in fact get banned, and it turned out that Pride had not made any statement to that effect. So QuAIA marched in 2009 with a large contingent of over 200 people. Although a significant amount of our efforts have focused on Toronto Pride and our right to march in the parade, every year we’ve managed to hold public events to address the conditions of Israeli apartheid and the role of queer communities in Palestinian solidarity work.

Tim: I entered the picture in 2009, when I agreed to join the panel Natalie mentioned to talk about the Simon Nkoli Anti-Apartheid Committee. El-Farouk Khaki, a prominent queer Muslim activist in Toronto, was the opening speaker for the event. I made my speech, a few people from the other side asked silly questions, and I thought I’d done my work. But the talk was met with a really nasty racist backlash, mainly aimed at El-Farouk, who was the Grand Marshall at Toronto Pride that year – all this stuff about people not being able to march and calling for him to be “dethroned.” It was clear then that it was not just a one-night stand, and I got involved in helping to organize the contingent in Pride. It was not the kind of fight you could just walk away from.

Corvin: After IAW 2008, people began publicly questioning ?Israel’s use of gay rights to legitimate the occupation and its apartheid policies. Within the Coalition Against Israel Apartheid (CAIA) in Toronto, a group of queer people was already having discussions about what to do. They began by forming a queer caucus within CAIA. Later, these people met with a few others, myself included. We sort of floundered for a few months. Although we’d wanted to organize the panel that Tim was a part of for a while, it took time for it to come together. Ultimately, the attacks from the other side gave us the energy to keep going and provided a reason for our commitment.

Richard: I started doing work around Israel and Palestine as part of Creative Response, a group made up of artists, intellectuals, and academics responding to the occupation. I went to Israel and the West Bank in 2007 and did a documentary video installation that played in a Toronto gallery for a couple of months. I found out about QuAIA because my partner, Tim, got invited to do the talk on Simon Nkoli and the South African connection. I went to that meeting and it was quite a revelation to find that so many queer folks were involved in this issue. I became involved with QuAIA there and then.

How did QuAIA respond to the argument that Pride isn’t political? Is this the first time you’ve encountered this argument doing queer organizing?

Richard: Pride came out of the Stonewall riots. Many of us actually remember fighting for gay rights in the 1970s – I’m old enough to remember those early demonstrations. So the progression from demonstration to celebration has always been there for me when I attend Pride. When you look at the Stonewall era, we organized groups with names like The Gay Liberation Front, which echoed national liberation fronts, African liberation fronts. The global political context inspired particular formations and fightbacks. I saw a documentary about Pride on PBS and they were chanting, “The people united will never be defeated,” a slogan that came out of Chile and the Unidad Popular struggles under Allende. That history has largely been forgotten.

In 1980, I co-founded Gay Asians Toronto. Similar groups were being founded in cities around the US. All of us had roots in anti-imperialist organizing, and we brought the skills and orientations we brought to queer liberation struggles. For this reason, the question of intersectionality became really central; it became obvious that we couldn’t separate issues like queer rights from issues like racism or gender. The way those things worked together, the way they fit into a global imperialist framework, could not be pulled apart. So when people ask us, “why are you talking about Palestine when you should be talking about gay rights?” they do violence to something that has always been entwined. Maybe it isn’t their intention, but it also says to queers of colour and indigenous queers that their issues and their wholeness are less important than some mythic notion of LGBT rights that exist outside of class, outside of ethnicity, outside of power dynamics that claim gay movements as a space of middle class white gay men.

Tim: Part of it has to do with the definition of “the political.” Richard and I come from a generation whose slogan was “the personal is political.” At that time, being out in a parade in broad daylight was a political act because of the tremendous repression. During the ’70s and ’80s, we could say anything we wanted about policy or legal reform – there was no problem with that. The problem was that, in those days, we could be as “political” as we wanted as long as we didn’t talk about sex. The only time I’ve ever been arrested and fingerprinted was for publishing an article about fist fucking in 1982. Years later, I found myself in a situation where people were saying, “Pride isn’t political – it’s about sexual liberation. You can talk about sex. You must talk about sex. Why would you want to bring politics into it?” Seeing that complete flip over the last 30 years, I thought: something has fundamentally changed. What is “the political” today, and what is its relationship to sexuality and to what gay community struggles are normally thought to be about? There’s been a really deep transformation that I still don’t quite understand.

Corvin: Over the last ten years, I’ve most often heard that Pride isn’t political from radical or political queers. Because a very narrow vision of LGBT rights has been adopted into the broader canon of liberal rights, the queer community has been neoliberalized – turned into a market for consumption and a fig leaf for the project of class inequality. Queer rights, women’s rights, and environmental ethics have been turned into emblems of progressivism used by the state and capital to shield racism and attacks on the working class. It also happens at the level of the individual when people become convinced that they’re progressive even though their class politics are very right-wing. So there’s been a cultural neoliberalization of gay identity, which – through commodification – has become a parody of queer traditions.

This process has alienated overtly political queers. In many cities, they’ve created alternative spaces and alternative Pride events; there’s an official Pride – the party and the celebration – and then there’s a smaller, self-marginalized Pride that’s overtly political and radical. In Toronto, some of that alterna-queer culture has emerged over the past decade or more; however, Toronto is one of the few cities where a completely alternative Pride event hasn’t developed. The QuAIA controversy is the first time that I recall mainstream political forces – many of them straight – advancing this argument that had actually been coming from the Left for a long time. What’s interesting is the way in which Toronto’s queer Left reacted. It’s different, I think, from other places. Rather than self-selecting and self-marginalizing out of this institution, our response was to say, “no, this is our space.” We have a central place in it and it’s important for us to be present.

Natalie: Ideally, I think Pride can reflect our histories of struggle and claims for inclusion; however, social movement claims have been reframed by neoliberalism. Demands for certain rights have translated into celebrations of acceptance and inclusion within hegemonic systems like marriage and the military. As an institution, Toronto Pride has shifted along these same lines. The parade has shifted from a politics of disruption toward a politics of celebrating diversity within capitalism itself. It has become a space for participating in a kind of citizenship centred on consumerism and lifestyle. The motives for marching in Pride have shifted away from reconfiguring the streets so that the excluded and persecuted can become visible. Now, people march to show off newfound articulations of subjectivity, which are fully commensurable with socially dominant systems. In fact, the slogan of Pride Toronto last year was “You Belong.”

The claim that Pride is not political – that political groups should not be included in Pride – is itself a political claim. It contends that certain types of politics are “non-political” and neutral while others are divisive, disruptive, and disturbing. The claim that Pride is “non-political” allows liberal queers to affirm their citizenship within the liberal state by judging what should or shouldn’t be included within Pride.

The debate around the politics of Pride did two important things: it reinvigorated the queer Left by pushing many queers to pick a side. It exposed the neoliberal shift in Pride, as liberation struggles were explicitly expelled from the spaces of queer community and replaced with gay consumerism. Here, the proper Pride participant is a liberal subject, who spends gay dollars and celebrates diversity as a marker of freedom – through participation in the free market.

In 2010, you were told you couldn’t march in Toronto’s Pride Parade if you used the term “Israeli apartheid.” ?What effect did exclusion from the official “queer community” have on QuAIA as a group and on you individually as queers? What did this reveal to you about the legitimacy of the concept of a “queer community”?

Richard: It was interesting that, when Pride pushed us out, the traditional queer community supported us. This support included a lot of the people who had founded most of the queer institutions in this city, people who understood that queer rights were not something that could be divorced from other social justice issues. Far from being pushed out of the queer community, we found that it was the pillars of the community that supported us. When we came under attack in 2010, a number of prominent Toronto queers gave back their Pride awards in protest.

Corvin: I don’t think the leadership of Pride – the former ?Executive Director and a few key people on the board – actually reflected the views of the broader queer community or even the official queer community, though they thought they did. These individuals also had no sense of how powerful free speech could be as a rallying cry within the queer community, given the historical struggles for that position. Although there was support for their position among some well-off liberal and conservative gays, the history of this struggle shows that the Pride leadership actually isolated itself when they excluded QuAIA. This was partly because of the work we’d already done as a result of our orientation toward mass politics. Queer communities are our constituency and not our opposition. Rather than assuming that most people are depoliticized, we try to engage people in the broader queer community on issues around Palestine.

It’s kind of annoying how, these days, everything has become a “community.” It’s really a rhetorical term designed to create the sense of something broader. But what does it mean to say that somebody’s “representing a community?” We try not to be naïve about how people use the term in self-serving ways.

Natalie: Like a lot of parades and festivals under capitalism, Pride now emphasizes growth and revenue. In Toronto, this growth has been focused on World Pride 2014. One of the reasons the board of directors decided to ban the words “Israeli apartheid” was because the term might limit growth; private donors and corporations might withhold funding. The interesting thing was that the short-lived ban on the words “Israeli apartheid” produced conditions that encouraged people to contest the notion of community. The history of Pride is about who belonged and who didn’t. In the last couple of years, maybe more than ever, people in Toronto have articulated how they belong to this idea of queer, to queer public spaces, and to the idea of a queer city. Pride became a space through which active leaders in the queer community had their criticisms taken seriously. At the same time, a whole new sector of people became invested in what they imagined to be the “queer community.” Although these people were not attached to queer communities, they had a vision of what queerness and Pride were supposed to be.

Tim: Because of my history with queer organizations in this city, I was dumbfounded when we were actually banned. I never thought it would happen; it just seemed so outlandish that Pride would say that somebody couldn’t march in the parade when, for years, they’d been trying to get anybody to march in it. To a certain extent, I was caught unawares by the shifts that had taken place. My understanding, though, is that this position didn’t come from the community but from outside of it. The voices deciding who belonged were generally straight people who’d previously had nothing to do with Pride. It revealed a weakness in the community and highlighted the strength of the Israeli lobby, which had begun targeting community organizations across the country with calls to defund them. This lobby saw Pride as a soft target because it had a better analysis than I did, I think, of how weak and opportunistic Pride had become.

I thought a lot about Toronto in comparison to Montreal and, at first, I was certain that the Israel lobby in Montreal was much more politically astute. They said, “we think Israel’s got a good gay rights record, but if a Palestine solidarity contingent wants to march in the parade, who cares.” And so you had 30 or 40 people in the Montreal parade; it lasted 60 seconds and never became an issue. In contrast, the Toronto Israel lobby’s actions made “Israeli apartheid” a household word. At first, I thought: are they really so inept? Can’t they see how they’re shooting themselves in the foot? However, by making “Israeli apartheid” a household word and whipping up this kind of hysteria, they were in fact contributing to the long-term strategy of convincing Jews that there is a new wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the world, and that Jews are in danger and must therefore support Israel. For instance, such fear mongering has been the truck and trade of B’Nai Brith’s campus campaigns since its September 2009 full-page ad in the National Post, warning students to be prepared for “hate on campus.”2 The same people were using QuAIA to manufacture similar paranoia about the queer community.

The outcome of last year’s events, and specifically Pride Toronto’s reversal of its decision to ban the phrase “Israeli apartheid,” was a significant victory for Palestinian solidarity movements. Why, then, did QuAIA decide not to participate in Pride this year?

Corvin: I think there was a sense that the narrative was becoming repetitious, that the same story had played out twice, and that we didn’t want to repeat it a third time. As a group, many of us were tired of the struggle to march in Pride; many of us didn’t join QuAIA to fight for our right to be in Pride, even if we needed to do so as long as that right was threatened. We also had a political hunch that the broader queer community was getting tired of the narrative and might turn on QuAIA if we once again became the central issue during Pride. I had the sense that, if Pride funding had been cut, QuAIA would be blamed and this would hurt the Palestinian solidarity movement in the long run. Our orientation has always been toward building the broadest possible base of support for Palestinian struggle and engaging with the queer community politically. Most of us don’t want martyrdom.

In April of 2011, Toronto’s city manager released a report that found that the term “Israeli apartheid” did not contravene city policy or any Canadian law, and that its use by a participating organization should not be used to defund Pride Toronto. City Council unanimously accepted his report and we were vindicated. ?We thought it was the perfect opportunity to call out Mayor Rob Ford and his allies for their bad faith and name the homophobia behind their attacks. We later learned that Ford didn’t ?attend a single Pride 2011 event so, in a way, the narrative was entrenched. In fact, he did most of the work to entrench it.

And so that’s why we chose not to participate. It was an intense, protracted discussion that almost broke the group apart. I think once we made the decision, and once the report came out and we responded with a press release, we were all very relieved.

Tim: Yeah, it’s interesting; the decision to withdraw was made before the City manager’s report came out. We couldn’t have written a better report ourselves. It said exactly what needed to be said. Because we were vindicated, we don’t have to fight this battle over and over again. The fact that the report was so good really played into our strategy. If it had been bad and suggested that we should not march, our trajectory would have been quite different.

Natalie: We’d had a few years of successfully galvanizing support from the broader queer community in Toronto, and there was a sense that it was time to pay those folks back. The decision was a complicated and difficult one. There was a fear that, by withdrawing from the parade, we would somehow reduce our political strength. Instead, it solidified our work. We decided we would have a presence at Pride but not in the parade. Rather than marching, we did a huge banner drop in the middle of the gay village while the parade was in full swing, calling on the queer community to boycott tourism to Israel. We didn’t withdraw from Pride. We realized that the parade wasn’t the only space of contestation and that we could create other spaces for the work we were doing.

Discrimination against QuAIA prompted local and national headlines. When the focus became free speech, how did QuAIA maintain its focus on solidarity with Palestine?

Natalie: We were really anxious about the fine line between ?pushing for freedom of expression and emphasizing our actual politics. It was tricky because the media didn’t want to hear about our line; reporters wanted to hear about our reaction to being banned. The frustrating reality about the massive media attention that we got was that we couldn’t emphasize our politics on your own terms. On one hand, the words “Israeli apartheid” were in print over and over again. On the other, we couldn’t control how the press framed the work we were doing. So, in terms of the media and the larger public, our politics got lost. To be honest, we never intended to politicize Toronto as a whole around Israeli apartheid – though that was an interesting side effect. We are, however, consistently invested in queer spaces. What we’re going to do in the years to come is a big question. We haven’t solidified our plans for Pride 2012 yet.

Tim: Because of my background in education, I’m less anxious about this question. You can’t go into a Grade One class and talk about nuclear physics. During the back and forth in 2010, someone criticized us for not talking about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel. I thought to myself, who’s going to know what BDS stands for when many people don’t even know where Israel is on the map? To me, the priority was to popularize the term “Israeli apartheid” and build relationships, because people ?learn through relationships. In Toronto’s gay community, many people weren’t well-versed on liberation struggles in Palestine, but they did have a certain understanding of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and that was our Grade One class. Even if we didn’t get to talk about things like homo-nationalism, we laid out the basic information. When everyone worried that we were being pulled off track because of the free speech argument, I was telling others not to worry about it so much. We were getting some basic stuff across and building relationships, and that’s what we need to do in this community. We can talk about BDS further down the line.

Corvin: A lot of us have learned that, pedagogically, maybe the straightest line isn’t the shortest path. Even if the people we’re talking with aren’t regurgitating the three demands of the BDS campaign, I still think we have made huge progress. Early on, we had a debate over our name and whether the apartheid analysis would be foundational. Almost reflexively, we followed CAIA and it ended up working to our advantage. Every time we were attacked in the media, the words “Israeli apartheid” were normalized. Even if they didn’t mention anything else, at least they mentioned that. The term is presently so charged, so people visited our website to figure out why we used it.

To expand on what Tim was saying about the importance of relationship building, the May 2009 event is a good example of our efforts in this regard. One of our members had the idea of inviting someone from the Simon Nkoli Anti-Apartheid Committee to talk about queers in Toronto working in solidarity with queers in South Africa. During the event, we presented a slideshow of images of protests against the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids in the hope that participants would consider the question of how social change happens.

We’re organizing at a time when many people have been lulled into believing that change happens because a few elites become enlightened. We wanted to remind people that these struggles were born in the streets, and we wanted people to be able to identify with Palestinians’ struggle by relating it to their own experience. Last year, we co-organized a forum around being banned from Pride. We invited queer Arabs and Palestinians to speak about their experiences. 800 people saw that, and I think we made it harder to talk about these issues without presenting a Palestinian point of view.

How have Israel’s pink-washing tactics influenced Palestine solidarity efforts, and what do these tactics reveal about the use of “queer rights” as a colonial tool?

Natalie: This brings up the question of Brand Israel, which we haven’t talked about yet and which, in many ways, is at the root of the work QuAIA does. Brand Israel is a campaign that was piloted in Toronto back in 2005 or 2006 before its international launch. It’s a PR campaign designed to counter growing public criticism of Israel’s ongoing violations of international human rights and disrupt conceptions of Israel in the public imagination that emphasize war, dead bodies, camps, and so on. Over the past few years, Brand Israel has grown in size and scope. The campaign includes efforts to paint Tel Aviv as a cosmopolitan oasis and a haven for queer travellers in the “homophobic Middle East.” Arab countries are branded as violent places where queer people have no rights and are killed on a daily basis. According to this logic, support for Israel is the only chance for liberals to secure gay rights in the Middle East.

Corvin: Israel’s pink-washing campaign was an easy focus around which to organize, and created a demand for that organizing. Of course, the civilizational discourse – “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” “they turned desert into orange groves” – is nothing new. There’s always some legitimizing ideology and, when you’re appealing to liberal democracies for support, you’re going to draw upon their prevailing self-conceptions. Then there’s the slightly different question of how these discourses are used to justify war, imperialism, and occupation. As for the influence on Palestine solidarity, I think pink-washing has pushed Palestinian queer organizations to adopt a more overtly pro-BDS stance, and integrate into the BDS movement. Along with the high profile of queer Palestinian activism by groups like QuAIA, this has also raised the profile of queer struggles in broader Palestinian and Arab society. From the outside, it’s hard to say what the long-term effect will be, but we’ve always felt that, as queers, it was important to be visible in our support of the Palestinian liberation struggle; however, an excessive sense of one’s own importance to another’s struggle can just be another form of colonialism. For this reason, it’s important to remain as conscious and critical as possible. I don’t think it’s possible for solidarity to become a strictly one-way flow of support “under the direction of” affected communities. But it is possible to engage in solidarity consciously and critically, to take responsibility for the effect one has, and to try as much as possible to leave the leadership of the struggle to Palestinian queers.

What is the relationship between sexual liberation and national liberation? What particular investment do queer people have in anti-colonial struggles?

Corvin: In QuAIA we often talk about how inhospitable the conditions of apartheid and occupation are for queer organizing among Palestinians, so the best way to support queer struggles there is to visibly support the struggle against apartheid.

Brand Israel tries to capitalize on the notion that Arab societies are homophobic, which is entrenched in the dominant liberal discourse in the West. That means queers have a particular responsibility to say “not in our name;” we’re also are seen as unlikely messengers, which makes us effective. Because we are seen as unlikely messengers, we create dissonance – why would queers care about this? Aren’t we the last people who should be taking up this cause?

You can answer the question in a different way by starting from the subject positions of people struggling against colonialism. If you’re queer in India, or in the Middle East, or an Indigenous person here, for example, you may see the retrieval and affirmation of different, Indigenous ideas of sexuality and identity as part of the struggle against colonialism, including homonationalism. Although QuAIA has a critique of homonationalism, we don’t particularly engage in the affirmative aspect of that struggle; we think it has to come out of Indigenous struggles themselves. At the same time I don’t think we would romanticize pre-colonial realities.

Richard: I’ve been around anti-colonial struggles for a long time – Nicaragua and South Africa are just two examples – and one of the things that gets said is that equality for women and sexual rights will come after national liberation. And they never do. Many queer folks who were central to these struggles remained closeted. What has been interesting about countering the pink-washing campaign and the stereotypes about Palestine and Palestinians is that queerness and queer rights have been at the forefront of the struggle, at least in Toronto. Our work has been recognized by the international BDS movement, and there has been an open dialogue with people in Palestine – who are not queer – around questions of sexuality. That shift in itself is interesting; it’s qualitatively ?different from other struggles I’ve partipated in.

Countries are often deemed good or bad on the basis of their laws around sexuality. But we know that, even if you have the most progressive laws, things like homophobia and transphobia are social processes that take a long time to change. South Africa has the most progressive constitution in the world; nevertheless, we hear about lesbians getting murdered and raped. I come from Trinidad and Tobago, where colonial laws are still on the books, and there is a big debate as to whether or not to get rid of them. When I go there, I see an incredible amount of activism and social progress despite what’s on the books. States – including Israel and Canada – appropriate progressive laws that have been won by queer activists and use them to push another agenda.

Natalie: Two things are happening in this particular moment. On one hand, the Israeli state’s mobilization of gay rights has created a platform that Palestinian rights struggles need to seize. Having a queer response to pink-washing becomes an important site of Palestinian solidarity work. We need to respond to the liberal narratives that the Israeli state has mobilized, and it’s very difficult to do that without a queer perspective. On the other hand, we are in a historical moment when people seem impatient with masculinist national liberation narratives. Anyone who has looked at movements against colonialism can see these narratives played out over and over again. We have fewer anti-colonial movements of this kind today because of official decolonization and because today’s colonialism needs to be contested differently. It’s thus a ripe moment for Palestinian liberation struggles to enter into everyday public consciousness. We are seeing public intellectuals, young activists, scholars, artists, and others intervene in ways that make it difficult to pretend the struggle for Palestinian rights is solely a struggle of militarized resistance against an occupying power. Israel’s more liberalized public relations strategies are a reflection of this; its tactics need to be different. At the same time, we need to reassess our ideas of liberation and resistance.

The Palestinian liberation struggle has a massive international solidarity movement. In order to galvanize and maintain this support, our strategies need to be adaptable. QuAIA is one example of this, and the fact that representatives from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) know about and acknowledge our work reflects the fact that this political moment requires multiple frames for engaging. In QuAIA, we don’t speculate about how liberation will function once it’s achieved, or even how it might be achieved. Instead, we aim to disrupt a dominant narrative circulating in this particular historical moment.

Tim: In certain ways, it was easier in the old days when national liberation movements happened under the hegemony of either communist or socialist formations – with all of their limitations. During the Chinese revolution, “women hold up half the sky” was a central slogan. Liberation included struggle against Han chauvinism. There was a general notion that sexual liberation, gender liberation, and national liberation were all streams flowing down the same watershed in the same direction, and that they were destined to meet. With the collapse of the socialist bloc, national liberation movements ceased to be hegemonically bound up with such positions. Palestine is a special case because there are still very strong forces within its national liberation movements that remain philosophically committed to these principles. Consequently, there’s space for common work and negotiation although homophobia exists at the same time. In general, however, the contemporary terrain is trickier because the constellation of forces has shifted. Anti-colonialism means something different than it did during the South African anti-apartheid struggle. Those doing solidarity work with Palestinians are in a really interesting and complicated situation. We must try to support anti-colonial and national liberation movements while, at the same time, differentiating ourselves from the reactionary elements that have always existed within them.


1 Pride Toronto is the non-profit, municipally funded organizing body behind the annual series of gay pride events in Toronto.