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Should Halifax Pride promote Tel Aviv tourism?

Queer activist Gary Kinsman: "booth violated global call for boycott "

by Robert Devet

Sociologist and social justice activist Gary Kinsman during an earlier visit to Halifax.  Photo Natascia Lypny
Sociologist and social justice activist Gary Kinsman during an earlier visit to Halifax. Photo Natascia Lypny

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - A member of the Halifax Rad Pride collective was asked by Halifax Pride organizers to stop distributing leaflets against the Israeli assault on Gaza anywhere near a booth promoting gay tourism to Tel Aviv.

And Gary Kinsman, long-time queer and social justice activist, was told by organizers not to engage in conversation with people associated with that same booth.

The booth was part of the community fair on the Garrison Grounds, final destination of Saturday's Pride parade.

Kinsman believes that a booth promoting Israel tourism should not be part of the Halifax Pride events. Not anytime, and certainly not now, while Gaza residents have nowhere to hide from relentless air and ground attacks by the Israeli Defence Forces.

And he thinks he should not have been told by Pride organizers to stop talking to people staffing the the booth.

Kinsman wrote a letter to the Halifax Pride organizing committee saying so.

"There is a global boycott compaign called for by Palestinian civil society, and reiterated by different community organizations in Gaza in the context of the current onslaught," Kinsman told the Halifax Media Co-op.

"My feeling was that having the Tel Aviv tourism people there was actually a violation of that boycott," Kinsman said.

Ramona Westgate, board chair of this year's Pride events, told the Halifax Media Co-op that safety was her main concern when she was asked to step in by the people staffing the booth.

"The woman was preventing the flow of traffic both to the booth and in front of the booth area," Westgate said.

And Westgate asked Kinsman to step away because she feared that a tense situation might boil over.

"I really wanted to make sure that the information flowed both ways. It wasn't to stop information," she said.

Kinsman's recollection of events differs, and he continues to consider what transpired an act of censorship.

"I wasn't trying to prevent the Tel Aviv tourism booth from being there, and neither was the person from Rad Pride," Kinsman said.

"We were simply trying to engage in a critical dialogue with the people behind that booth and the people who were passing by, to present another perspective to them.

"We were saying that it was a violation of the global boycott and that hopefully the Halifax Pride committee will decide for next year that such a booth is not appropriate."

Westgate told the Halifax Media Co-op that the board will review the documentation that Kinsman and the pro-Israel people provided, and revisit its policies on how similar situations should be addressed in the future.

But at this time everybody is welcome.

"In theory we would at present not have a mechanism in place to prevent anybody, that is correct," Westgate said, emphasizing that she did not speak on behalf of the board

"Our mandate is to have a festival that is accessible to all, so for us to deny anybody entrance based on the information that they are handing out, because of our support for the free flow of information, that would actually be against our bylaws," she said.

Kinsman hopes that his letter will make a difference.

"Hopefully there will now be a discussion within the Pride committee and the broader queer community in Halifax about what this actally entails," Kinsman said.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is modeled on the successful campaign against South African apartheid, Kinsman explained.

That started out very small, but eventually it became a massive campaign, putting major pressures on the apartheid forces in South Africa and certainly helping to create the situation where apartheid in South Africa was defeated, he said

"It is a non-violent, peaceful strategy that puts economic and social pressure on the state and the institutions that are causing oppression," Kinsman said.

"So for me it is really the approach that should be adopted by the people who want peace and justice."

A Halifax Pride follow-up community meeting is scheduled for August 27 at 6 PM  at the Gottingen Street Public Library.

See also:

Remembering the Queer Liberation Movement's radical roots

Candlelight vigil in support of Gaza


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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