Organisers of Pride Toronto are under fire after they banned the term “Israeli Apartheid” from the upcoming parade, saying that its use makes participants feel unsafe.

This comes after a furore erupted over the participation of a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the event.

Despite it having previously taken part in the annual parade, this year there were calls from pro-Israeli organisations for QuAIA to be barred because they claim that the group is anti-Semitic.

Organisers also face a proposed city council motion that could lead to them losing city funding and support over the participation of QuAIA.

Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands, who was a previous Joburg Pride Chairperson, told local media that the move was necessary to save the event.

In a statement issued on Monday, Pride Toronto said that it had decided to allow QuAIA to take part but that the group would not be allowed to use the term “Israeli Apartheid” in the parade.

“Let us be clear, criticism of Israeli government policy is legitimate. However, the atmosphere created by the use of the words “Israeli Apartheid” in the last three years of the Pride Festival are not,” said the organisers.

“The Board of Pride Toronto listened to members of our community. What we heard overwhelmingly was that the use of the words ‘Israeli Apartheid’ made participants feel unsafe.”

The organisers added that the event would face action under the city’s anti-discrimination policy if they allowed the use of the term in the parade.

The move has led to a massive backlash against the organisers which could throw the event into disarray.

More than 20 current and previous high-profile recipients of awards and honours from Pride Toronto – including this year’s international grand marshals – returned or renounced their honours at a press conference in Toronto on Monday.

“We are returning our various awards and honours in protest of this ban and of censorship. We will accept them back when Pride Toronto rescinds the ban and returns Pride to the free speech traditions upon which it was founded,” they said in a statement.

Attracting over 1,2 million people, Pride Toronto is one of the world’s largest Pride events. It takes place in the first week of July and will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

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