Jewish organizations in Canada have reacted with disappointment following a decision by the Vancouver City Council to postpone the vote on a motion aimed at combating antisemitism in the city.
The 6-5 decision to delay was voted on at a council meeting on Wednesday.
The motion, which included the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, was introduced to the council by city councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung, in response to the rising number of antisemitic incidents taking place in Canada’s third-largest city.
B’nai Brith Canada said it was “disappointed by Vancouver City Council’s decision... to refer a motion on endorsing the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism to committee, rather than adopting it immediately.
“Our 2018 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents recorded a 126.7% spike in antisemitic incidents… so this is an urgent problem that must be addressed. Nevertheless, we remain confident that Vancouver will take the important step of adopting the IHRA definition in due course, along with other cities across Canada.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Center, and The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) – the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA – said in a statement that while they are disappointed that the City Council did not hear the speakers or decide to make a decision about the motion on Wednesday night, “we are committed to working with the Racial and Ethno-Cultural Equity Advisory Committee that will provide recommendations to the council on how the City of Vancouver can increase action to combat all forms of racism and hatred, including antisemitism.
“We would like to thank you for writing to [Vancouver] Mayor [Kennedy] Stewart and the City Council, and sharing the action alert to encourage others to get involved,” the groups stressed. “We would also like to thank those who registered to speak in favor of the motion.”
Nico Slobinsky, CIJA’s director of the Pacific region, said that the “postponement of the motion to combat antisemitism is an unfortunate setback in the struggle against racism and bigotry. Data released this week by Statistics Canada reveals that the hate crime rate in Vancouver is now higher than Toronto and Montreal, with Jewish residents remaining the most frequent target. By delaying the initiative to protect Jewish community members at a time of rising antisemitism, those councilors who voted against the motion are on the wrong side of history.
“Our community will not be silent about the dangerous growth of Jew hatred in our city. We will continue working to raise awareness and counter antisemitism using the IHRA definition as a key tool.”
In the motion presented to the council, Kirby-Yung noted that “In the City of Vancouver, hate crimes and hate crime incidents increased from 61 in 2016 to 141 in 2018. In 2017, police-reported hate crimes targeting members of the Canadian Jewish community reached 360 and rose by 60% in a single year, according to Statistics Canada.” This means that “an antisemitic hate crime takes place once every 24 hours in Canada.”
A campaign against Kirby-Yung’s motion has also been started, called #NoIHRA, in which locals have been encouraged to write letters to the mayoral office and the City of Vancouver. Protesters are urged to write that “while fighting antisemitism is essential, the IHRA definition is the wrong approach.”
The pro-Palestinian group Independent Jewish Voices took to Twitter to comment on the matter, saying, “Vancouver: Antisemitism is real and dangerous. The IHRA is not the solution. We need a clear definition that does not repress speech around Israel/Palestine.”
Pro-Palestinian activist Rabbi David Mivasair called on Vancouver in a tweet to “REJECT the biased, manipulative IHRA definition of antisemitism. It is used to suppress honest discussion of Israel’s brutal oppression of Palestinians, not to defend Jews against real threats. Don’t be duped by Israel’s agents in Canada.”