Two rabbis at Temple Sholom in Vancouver have distributed an open letter urging community members to join the Pride parade on Sunday (August 1).
In the letter, Rabbi Philip Bregman and Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg say they would be delighted if people walked alongside them and members of the Vancouver Hillel Foundation.
"Our hope is to have a positive show of support, educating the crowds (about 250,000 are expected) about Israel's history of equality for gays and lesbians and all people," Bregman and Mikelberg wrote. "We have heard the group 'Queers Against Israeli Apartheid' may also be attending, and our presence will serve to counter their libelous message."
When contacted by the Straight, Mikelberg referred all questions to Pat Johnson, B.C. programs director for the Vancouver Hillel Foundation.
"We're participating for the reason everybody is participating: to celebrate equality," Johnson told the Straight.
He added that a component of the group will be "educating the spectators about the realities of queer equality in the Middle East comparatively between Israel and the other countries in the Middle East".
"Israel is the gay mecca of the Middle East," Johnson said. "I'm all for free expression, but...when a group of people self-identifying as queer take it upon themselves to attack in the most virulent way they can imagine the one sole oasis for GLBTQ people in the Middle East, I have to ask what their real motivation is. I don't think it's a gay-positive one."
The president of the Vancouver Pride Society, Ken Coolen, did not return a message by the time this story was posted.
The Straight was also, by the time of this posting, unable to reach a member of Vancouver Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Like the Vancouver Hillel Foundation, it's registered as an entrant in this year's parade.
Earlier this year, a Toronto group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was banned from that city's Pride parade. Pride Toronto reversed its decision after a community uproar.
On its Web site, the Toronto group claims that "Israel has begun an aggressive public relations campaign to market itself as an oasis of gay tolerance and democracy in the Mideast, surrounded by 'backward' countries where gays have no rights."
"The campaign is not about supporting queers in Palestine or elsewhere in the Mideast who are resisting homophobia," the group maintains. "It is about using their experience of homophobia to promote hatred of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims–including queer Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. The campaign is designed to make people living in liberal democracies like Canada feel an affinity for Israel."
Johnson, however, claimed that those who claim that Israel is practising apartheid are, in essence, denying that Israel should be a Jewish state.
"If you're equating a society with apartheid, nobody believes that a place that is an apartheid society should continue to exist," he said.
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