Vancouver City Council Adopts IHRA Antisemitism Definition to Counter Rising Jew-Hatred

November 17, 2022

The Vancouver City Council approved by a 6-1 vote on Wednesday a resolution to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The motion — introduced by Councilmember Sarah Kirby-Yung — said, “To date, and in the face of the alarming global increase in antisemitism and anti-Jewish hate and the significant and meaningful actions taken by the federal and provincial governments, the City’s actions are not as emphatic or supportive as the situation demands. In the face of ongoing and increasing antisemitism, Council should take a strong stance to combat antisemitism in our city and provide the practical tools, such as the IHRA non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism, to identify antisemitism when and wherever it manifests in our community.”

The resolution — which can be read in full here — directed city staff to share “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism with the Vancouver Police Board, Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver Park Board and Vancouver School Board for their review and consideration as an additional practical and educational tool, in addition to any existing working definitions, in identifying antisemitism.”

Kirby-Yung said, “Nobody should have to live in fear because of who they are. It was an honor to bring this motion forward to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. We stand united with Vancouver’s Jewish community in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the troubling rise of hate incidents in our city. The best means to combat hate is through education, and the IHRA definition can help foster a deeper level of understanding. Education is more powerful than any punitive actions could ever be.”

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim noted, “We are proud to stand with the Jewish community both in Vancouver and around the world. Antisemitism has no place in our city, and today we take an important step towards building a more inclusive and safe society for all.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel — President and CEO of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs — stated, “Defining antisemitism is an essential step towards recognizing its manifestations and being able to counteract it. Today’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by Mayor Ken Sim and Vancouver City Council is a clear stand against the rise in acts of hatred against members of the Jewish community.”

“History has repeatedly shown, what begins as hatred of Jews never ends as hatred of Jews. Canadians must stand united with the Jewish community in the fight against antisemitism,” Fogel added. “The decision made by Vancouver City Council today is a victory for all who stand against hate — no matter which group is the immediate target.”

Ezra Shanken — CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver — commented, “Today, Mayor Sim and the vast majority of Vancouver City Council sent a strong message that antisemitism has no place in society. To combat antisemitism effectively, it must first be defined. The IHRA definition will help the people of Vancouver identify and combat antisemitism in all its forms. The rise of antisemitic hate crimes across the country has meant that fighting antisemitism must be a priority for all Vancouverites and Canadians, not just members of the Jewish community.”

The Vancouver City Council’s move was welcomed by Canadian Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler, a Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Advisory Board Member, who called the IHRA definition the “most authoritative, comprehensive, and international-consensus definition that exists today.”

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism says, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The definition’s accompanying list of examples details 11 specific discriminatory behaviors targeting Jews and the State of Israel.

According to a study by CAM Antisemitism Research Center and the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, nearly 1,000 entities around the world — including international organizations, governing bodies, NGOs, universities, athletic clubs, and corporations, among other groups — have adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism since 2016.

An annual audit conducted by B’nai Brith Canada showed a rise in antisemitic incidents for a sixth consecutive year in Canada in 2021.

According to police-reported crime data published by Statistics Canada in August, the number of antisemitic hate crimes in Canada rose 47% in 2021 from the previous year, and Jews remained the country’s most-targeted religious group.

In September, Alberta became the fifth Canadian province to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.