Yes, there really is an organization called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

They’re based in Toronto, and their participation (or non-participation) in Toronto’s annual Pride Week and parade has been a source of hot controversy.

Toronto’s Pride Week is one of the largest in the world, with an estimated attendance of over 1 million people. This year’s celebration starts next week – on June 22 – and runs until July 1, when the big parade takes place.

“Pride Week celebrates our queer community’s diverse sexual and gender identities, history, culture, creativity, friends and lives,” says the Toronto tourism web site. “It includes a three-day street festival with over eight stages of live entertainment, an extensive street fair, a special Family Pride program, a politically charged Dyke March and the infamous and fabulous Pride Parade.”

It also included – in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – a float from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA). But the 2010 participation almost didn’t happen. Initially the Pride organizers banned the words “Israeli Apartheid,” but following protests reversed their decision and QuAIA marched in the parade on July 4, 2010.

The groundwork had been laid for further protests, however, and there were threats that the City of Toronto would cut off its funding to Pride Week unless QuAIA were barred. The issues were obvious – free speech vs. the hijacking of Pride Week to promote an anti-Israel agenda. The absurdity of the QuAIA position – given Israel’s record of acceptance of homosexuals vs. the Palestinian (and wider Arab) record – was not lost on most commentators.

In April, 2011, the city manager issued a report concluding that “the participation of QUAIA in the Pride Parade based solely on the phrase ‘Israeli Apartheid’ does not violate the City’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. The City also cannot therefore conclude that the use of term on signs or banners to identify QuAIA constitutes the promotion of hatred or seeks to incite discrimination contrary to the Code.” Nevertheless, QuAIA chose not to participate in the 2011 parade, but held events outside the scope of the officially-funded activities. Their stated reason was to eliminate an excuse for Mayor Rob Ford (perceived within the LGBT community as homophobic) to vote against funding Pride Week – and in effect dare him to expose his homophobia by opposing funding even with QuAIA out of the picture.

This year, QuAIA is back in the picture – maybe. The city voted to fund Pride Week with a $124,000 grant – even with QuAIA involved –  but also issued a resolution strongly condemning the use of the phrase “Israeli apartheid.” For their part, the organizers of Pride Week announced a dispute resolution mechanism under which complaints about participants will be sent to a dispute resolution panel that will decide if an organization is to be allowed into the parade.

A complaint has indeed been filed. Kulanu, a Jewish gay and lesbian group, has asked the arbitration panel to ban QuAIA from the parade. Kulanu’s complaint said QuAIA’s “behaviour and rhetoric are hurtful to Jewish parade participants and to supporters of Israel,” and that the analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa is false and offensive. QuAIA has responded that   the phrase “Israeli apartheid” is factual and accurate, and does not constitute the preaching of hatred. To ban QuAIA would amount to censorship.

It’s not clear if there will be enough time for the three-member arbitration panel to issue a ruling in time for the parade.

My own view is that the existence of QuAIA – and their participation in the Pride Week festivities – far from being a problem for Israel, is actually helpful because it glues yet one more nutbar organization to the Palestinian cause. The position of QuAIA is nothing short of grotesque, in that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the LGBT community can not only exist in safety, but thrive. The QuAIA website features a slogan, “We stand with queers in Palestine.” The idea that Israel is somehow the enemy of “queers in Palestine” – that “queers in Palestine” would be just fine if it weren’t for Israel – reaches a level of delusion that is almost thrilling in its totality.

How can it hurt Israel to have the Palestinian cause embraced by such people – and seen to be embraced by such people?

If I were running Palestinian PR, I’d be fleeing from that embrace as  fast and as hard as I could. I wouldn’t want my cause to be reduced to such a cartoon version of reality. I would see QuAIA’s endorsement as undermining my need to be taken seriously.