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Vancouver’s New City Council

How did adopting a controversial definition of antisemitism become a priority?

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The ABC Party, which ran in the Vancouver 2022 municipal election on a pro-development, law-and-order platform, introduced a motion to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in its first week in office, with the motion passing on November 16, 2022. It was introduced by ABC Councillor Sara Kirby-Young, who claimed that it is intended to "combat hate" and to "foster a deeper level of understanding."

However, groups opposing the motion in British Columbia, including Independent Jewish Voices, Canada Palestine Association, BC Civil Liberties Association, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoners Network, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs argue that the definition's main function is to shield Israel from criticism and to conflate anti-Zionism (criticism of Israel and it's the project of establishing an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine) with antisemitism. 

The IHRA is an inter-governmental organization made up of 34 member countries, mostly European along with Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, all of whom have supported Israel through its 75-year occupation of Palestine. Vancouver joined the provinces of Alberta, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in adopting the IHRA definition in 2022.

Immediately after the motion passed, ABC Mayor, Ken Sim, and other members of the ABC City Council celebrated alongside Nico Slobinsky, Senior Director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), an explicitly Zionist organization whose main priorities include "strengthening the Canada-Israel friendship."

Ken Sim, ABC Councillors and Nico Slobinsky

ABC won the 2022 municipal election in Vancouver with a platform of addressing the housing crisis by loosening regulations on real estate development, hiring 100 new cops, re-assigning cops to Vancouver high schools (through the School Liaison Program, which was cancelled in 2021), and through commitments to conservative constituencies, like passing the IHRA and "revitalising" Chinatown. 

The ABC election campaign was bankrolled by real estate developers (as was that of main rival, former Mayor Kennedy Stewart's Forward Together party), and backed by Vancouver billionaire Chip Wilson's shadowy Pacific Prosperity Network. Wilson founded the PPN with an initial donation of $380,000 to "build software to run a successful campaign, to gather big data, empower grassroots and be an effective full-time voice for the right.”

Vancouver city councillors outside the ruling party wondered why the IHRA motion, which is "non-legally binding" and does not respond to any uptick in antisemitic incidents in the region, was such a priority for ABC.  But opponents point out that Zionism has become an increasingly core element of right-wing politics internationally.

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