Vancouver council votes to adopt controversial definition of anti-Semitism


Vancouver voted to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that many jurisdictions have also adopted, but some human rights groups oppose it over fears it will stifle free speech.

The Council voted six to one on Wednesday to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

Com. Sarah Kirby-Yung of A Better City (ABC) Vancouver introduced the motion.

« At the very root for me, when I’m distilling it, it’s really about education, » Kirby-Yung said before voting.

« Education is the most powerful tool we have against hate. It is more powerful than any punitive action could be. »

Vancouver County Sarah Kirby-Yung listens to speakers Tuesday during a motion to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

An intergovernmental organization, the IHRA defines anti-Semitism as « a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed in hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed against Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/ or their property, to Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. »

Some groups, including at least one Jewish group, Independent Jewish Voices, said the definition had been “weaponized” by Israel and its supporters against the Palestine Solidarity movement. Some fear the definition will stifle criticism of Israel by equating such criticism with anti-Semitism.

The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Zionist and Jewish advocacy organization, told CBC it was « dishonest, » pointing to the definition’s guidelines that « criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any another country cannot be considered anti-Semitic ». . »

All councilors and Sim stressed that they opposed anti-Semitism in all its forms during the deliberations.

Councilors who did not vote in favor overall said they feared the definition would create divisions, including among speakers who identified as Jews on the council.

Supporters of the motion argued that while not everyone fully agreed with the definition, adopting it was an important way to express solidarity with the Jewish community and make them feel safe. in the city.

Speakers for and against

Dozens of people spoke out for and against the definition for most of Wednesday, many of whom identified as Jewish.

Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel Vancouver spoke about his parents who survived the Holocaust. Many of his father’s relatives did not.

He also spoke about his hometown of Pittsburgh, which was the scene of a tragic, deadly and anti-Semitic shooting in 2018.

He said his Vancouver congregation did not feel safe and adopting the definition would be a step forward.

« Synagogues are the only sacred spaces in this city that must have continuous security for every function and every service we perform, » he said.

On the other hand, Michael Fraser, speaking on the phone, said that as a Jewish person he did not agree with the definition.

He said his family had been displaced by pogroms in Ukraine and he had been the victim of « personal and systemic » anti-Semitism, including atrocious insults and jokes about the Holocaust.

He thinks the definition is vague and misleading and that many Jews do not support it.

« I do not accept the dogma that we as Jewish people can only be safe with a nation-state that comes at the cost of displacing an indigenous people, namely the Palestinians, and a A state that is shielded from criticism by motions like the IHRA definition,” Fraser says.

The majority of the council said they did not believe the definition would restrict freedom of speech and while it did not enjoy unanimous support, they were confident it enjoyed broad support among the people Jewish.

All members of the ABC list voted in favor, except for Coun. Rebecca Bligh, who was absent. Com. Christine Boyle was the only voice in opposition. Green Party councilors Pete Fry and Adrianne Carr abstained.


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