Jewish groups are expressing relief that a resolution to remove promotional materials associated with the pro-Israel “Size Doesn’t Matter” (SDM) campaign from Halifax Pride events was defeated at the LGBTQ organization’s annual general meeting.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC) released a joint statement praising Halifax Pride for rejecting a resolution they said would censor the Jewish community.
“We applaud Halifax Pride for upholding the core spirit of Pride, which is about uniting communities and inclusivity. The LGBTQ and Jewish communities in Halifax have been natural allies since [Jews first took part in Pride activities] in 1989,” said AJC executive director Naomi Rosenfeld.
The controversial motion, which was submitted by the local community group Queer Arabs of Halifax (QAH), was rejected at the Oct. 5 meeting by a vote of 210 to 106, with five abstentions.
According to a statement released by Halifax Pride, 376 people registered as members of the Halifax Pride Society before the meeting in order to vote.
It also said that after the QAH resolution was defeated, some members of the LGBTQ community left in protest.
Rosenfeld said she estimated that about 100 of the people in attendance were members of the Jewish community, a number of whom had responded to the AJC’s call for Jews to attend the meeting, register as a member of Pride, and vote.
“This was a real uniting moment for our community. There were both long-time supporters of Pride and some newcomers to the community. Quite a broad range of people came out,” she said.
QAH’s motion was tabled in advance of the meeting and elicited a strong backlash from Jewish organizations and some members of the Jewish community. It called for Halifax Pride to actively remove and disengage from what it called the “pinkwashing” content presented by “Size Doesn’t Matter” and “any other content that is identified to pinkwash violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
The resolution said that in a letter to organizers last June, QAH “voiced their concern of the barrier of their full participation at the Halifax Pride Festival due to the presence of pinkwashing content.”
The SDM campaign was created by CIJA to highlight Israeli culture, technology, lifestyle and values. Its materials are distributed by CIJA to branches of Hillel or, in this case, the AJC, to feature at different events or fairs across the country.
QAH did not respond to The CJN’s request for an interview, but has said in the past that SDM, whose materials have been showcased for the last four years at a booth hosted by the AJC at Halifax Pride’s community fair, promotes a state that violates international law in its mistreatment of Palestinians.
In a statement, Halifax Pride chair Willem Blois said the organization is “processing” what happened at the AGM, and “the conversation goes on, even after the results of tonight’s vote.”
At the meeting, the AJC withdrew a resolution it had tabled calling for freedom of expression during Pride, after the same one – put forward by Kevin Kindred, a former chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) and a member of Halifax’s LGBTQ community who also voted to defeat QAH’s resolution – passed an earlier vote.
Kindred, who has no affiliation with Judaism or Israel and said he’s “on the side of being more critical of Israel,” said he voted against the QAH resolution because, while the group’s opposition to the SDM campaign resonates with him, asking Pride to censor community groups is “the wrong response and inconsistent with Pride values.”
What’s deeply disappointing, he said, was the defeat of an NSRAP resolution to implement clearer guidelines for entry into Pride events. He said the resolution would have helped curb pinkwashing by requiring any group seeking a presence at Pride to show they have a track record of “contributing to the LGBTQ community… and practices that support queer people.”
Corporations using Pride purely for self-promotion is “a form of pinkwashing we ought to take seriously, but unfortunately, we only focus on Israel,” Kindred said.
QAH’s resolution was supported by the NSRAP, which said in a statement that the SDM campaign promotes Israel as a tourist destination and a “safe haven” for LGBTQ people and that “this strategy operates to divert attention away from Israel’s systemic human rights abuses against Palestinians.” It stressed that its opposition “is not to Jewish people or the AJC itself, but to AJC’s use of its position as a local community group to promote LGBTQ tourism in Israel through the distribution of SDM materials.”
The NSRAP also did not respond to The CJN’s request for a comment.
Rosenfeld said the SDM campaign is a way of “expressing pride in a way that best fits our community. Israel is such a core part of many Jewish people’s identity here, and we choose to celebrate that… to show our support for the LGBT community in Halifax that includes [members of] the Jewish community.”
CIJA spokesperson Jordan Kerbel said SDM is not intended to be about tourism, nor is it funded in any way by the Israeli government.
“The campaign was designed to get people in Canada to know about things they don’t otherwise know about Israel – nightlife, culture, etc… and part of that is including Israel’s achievements in the LGBTQ community,” he said, stressing that the campaign is “100 per cent funded by CIJA.”
He added that while people at Pride festivals may see the materials and conclude that Israel is a good place to visit – “Yes, LGBT tourism to Israel is going up,” he noted – SDM’s goal is to “enable audiences to see parts of Israel that many have not recognized, elements not about the conflict, but about Israel as a vibrant society.”
Rebecca Segal is a member of Jewish Youth for Equality, which she describes as a coalition of young Jews in Halifax that formed last month to “affirm the common humanity of Palestinians” and “educate our community on the [Israeli] occupation.”
She and a fellow group member published an op-ed in The Coast, a local Halifax newspaper, expressing support for QAH’s motion.
“QAH has made it clear the presence of SDM in Halifax Pride prevents their ability to be there comfortably. As young Jews, we felt this needed to be respected… and when our community leaders paint with a broad brush this [motion] as discriminatory and hateful, we felt this didn’t represent us,” she told The CJN.
Social media exploded with reactions after the meeting. Members of the LGBTQ community complained their event was hijacked by the AJC, which they said brought mostly non-LGBTQ people to the meeting to vote.
Tony Tracy, a Halifax trade unionist and activist, tweeted: “Appalled to hear that [the AJC] stacked @HalifaxPride’s AGM with non-LGBTQ people to outnumber trans & queer folks.”
Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie, who initially said he wouldn’t attend Halifax Pride if QAH’s resolution passed, tweeted “Happy @HalifaxPride reaffirmed its commitment to inclusion and expression.”