Lihi Shmuely of Israel Hofsheet and Ben Murane of the New Israel Fund of Canada. (photos from the organizations)
Binyamin Netanyahu is the longest-serving Israeli prime minister and should be a known quantity. The government he leads now, however, is unlike anything the country has seen in the past, according to a leading Israeli activist who participated in a cross-Canada speaking tour.
“This is different,” said Lihi Shmuely, deputy director of Israel Hofsheet. “This is completely new to us. This is a very extreme, radical government that we’ve never seen before.”
Israel Hofsheet (Israel Be Free) works to increase freedom and equality in the areas of religion and state, as well as Jewish pluralism in Israel, particularly focusing on civil options for marriage, gender equality, pluralistic Shabbat in the public realm and LGBTQ+ rights.
Even some voters who supported parties that are now in the governing coalition are expressing regret, she said. Many supported right-wing parties based on national security issues or a range of other policies.
“Now they understand that it comes as a whole package, that these people who promised national security … [are] not just racists but also chauvinists and homophobes and misogynistic people who are promoting legislation that will hurt the very core, the liberal and democratic core, of Israel,” said Shmuely.
She warned that people should take members of the new government seriously when they advance what appear to be extreme policy positions. To contextualize what is happening, she compared the reaction in the United States when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade, the precedent-setting reproductive rights case.
“We thought this was already set in stone, the Supreme Court has decided and that’s it,” Shmuely said. Returning to the Israeli situation, she warned that some people do not believe that the more extreme statements or policies – even the formally agreed-upon coalition agreements – will actually be codified in legislation or policy. “They will do what they say they’ll do. So, we need to take it very, very seriously.”
Evidence suggests many Israelis are taking it seriously. Rallies throughout the country against the range of legislation and proposals – most notably the subjugation of the Supreme Court to the elected Knesset, as well as women’s equality and LGBTQ+ rights, the status and rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, and encroachments of religion into the public sphere. People who have never been political in the past are getting involved and even attending the mass rallies that take place every weekend.
“We don’t have this privilege anymore, to say, I will not get involved,” Shmuely said, adding that Israelis are facing existential questions. “I feel like we are asking ourselves, what are we? Are we a Jewish state? Are we a democratic state? Are we a liberal democracy? Is there a contradiction between all of them? It feels like these days we are writing the rest of our history.”
Shmuely’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor and, in recent months, has been saying, “This is not the country that I ran away from Europe for.”
While emphasizing urgency, Shmuely counters that it is not too late to alter course.
“I do think we are under terrible threat and I do think that it’s not too late,” said Shmuely. “It’s almost – but it’s not yet. We still have a lot to do.”
A major focus for opposition groups is this October’s municipal elections across Israel.
“These are sort of like the midterms in the States,” she said. Aside from this, municipal governments also have power to push back against national trends. For example, some municipalities have expanded transportation services to Shabbat.
Shmuely was supposed to be in Vancouver March 1 for a program at Or Shalom synagogue. However, she was stuck in Toronto after contracting COVID and appeared virtually. In person was Ben Murane, executive director of the New Israel Fund of Canada. His group supports civil society organizations in Israel that advance socioeconomic equality, religious freedom, civil and human rights, shared society and anti-racism efforts. Their Vancouver event was co-sponsored by Or Shalom, and the advocacy groups Peace Now and Ameinu.
Murane highlighted what he sees as recent positive developments.
“We couldn’t have anticipated that every Saturday there would be 100,000 protesters coming out – 300,000 last weekend,” he said. Security officials, business leaders, the heads of universities, lawyers, the press council and others who might previously have remained silent on contentious issues are speaking out, said Murane, and high-tech businesses are giving employees time off to attend protests.
“We couldn’t have anticipated that, in the past few weeks, major Diaspora voices who, between you and me, are usually the ones arguing against criticism of Israel, would be coming out saying, please criticize the government of Israel,” he said. “The Jewish Federations of North America issued a very surprising and precedent-breaking statement against the court override. You see individuals like [former Canadian justice minister] Irwin Cotler coming out, you see [former head of the Anti-Defamation League] Abraham Foxman and, for whatever it’s worth, Alan Dershowitz also saying something.”
He cited the resignation of Avi Maoz from cabinet last week as a positive outcome, partly due to public opposition. Maoz is head of the far-right Noam party, which advocates against equality for women and LGBTQ+ people. He resigned from cabinet, though not from the governing coalition, when he realized that Netanyahu was unlikely to implement numerous of his priorities.
“Avi Maoz came in with very bold intentions and then met all of this intense resistance and found that his agenda is not going to be as easily advanced,” he said. The rest of the coalition realized, according to Murane, that it would cost a great deal of political capital for the government to allow Maoz to get his way. “We are seeing them say, Avi, you’re not going to get everything you want, and he quits in a huff.… This is evidence that some of this is actually working, that it may appear a pyrrhic victory, but these are the dribs and drabs of what impact looks like in these moments.”
The role of groups like his and its partners on the ground in Israel is eternal vigilance, Murane said.
“Part of the role of civil society is to let nothing go unchallenged. Nothing,” he said. “Even if our odds of actually completely forestalling it are slim, part of the victory is to make an atrocious thing merely bad and to make the political powers that are advancing these initiatives expend a great deal of political capital in order to get what they want, by making them waste time and energy.”
Murane addressed the extraordinary violence that took place in the Palestinian village of Huwara Feb. 26, where rampaging Jewish settlers engaged in what has been called by some a “pogrom” that left one person dead, almost 400 wounded, and homes and businesses set afire. The attack was revenge for a terror attack the same day, in which Israeli brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, were murdered.
“We’ve seen settler violence,” said Murane. “It’s been on the increase. It’s a real thing. It’s a fact of life for Palestinians from the territories. But to have dozens of settlers go into a village with impunity and commit the violence they committed, that is a new thing.”
He said civil society organizations must draw as much attention as possible to such incidents, including promoting the use of body cameras for police and wider availability of video cameras for civilians.
Incidents like these cloud the reality of evolving Israeli views on Arab-Jewish political cooperation, he said. Over the last several election cycles, opinion polls have indicated a steep increase in the proportion of Israelis who support Arab-Jewish political cooperation, from about 30% a couple of years ago to a majority today. The inclusion of an Arab political party in the last coalition government was groundbreaking.
“That’s a huge change in Israeli society that, a year ago, we didn’t even imagine it was possible,” Murane said. In the 2022 election, he said, “unless you are voting for the right-wing, you are implicitly voting for more Jewish-Arab political partnership.”
Or Shalom’s Rabbi Hannah Dresner introduced the event.
“I think it’s an important time for me to acknowledge that the democracy that I imagine as part of that beautiful place that I called Israel through my whole growing up and adulthood is really a selective democracy, a democracy for some and not for all,” she said. “That is a very important aspect of my concern at the moment – not just what happens with the loss of democracy but what is that democracy and how can it be a democracy that serves all who live in the land of Israel?”
If a member of your family were in crisis, would you abandon them? Even if the crisis were partly self-inflicted, of course you would stand by them.
In a metaphorical way, this is the issue facing Diaspora Jews in considering Israel right now. Whether you agree or disagree with the direction of the new government, it is undeniable that Israel is in a crisis. Each weekend, for several weeks, between 100,000 and 300,000 people have marched in the streets in opposition to a range of government policies, particularly proposed judicial “reforms” that many critics view as a threat to the fundamental democratic character of the country.
Watching from afar, these events are discouraging and worrying – and these emotions mingle with what might already be a degree of ambivalence, disappointment and many other sentiments. It is not always easy to be a supporter of Israel overseas. We have struggled in the face of decades of condemnation, some legitimate, some outlandish exaggerations. It would be easier, for some of us, to walk away.
Israelis do not have the luxury of walking away. And if one looks at Israel today and says, “That does not reflect my Judaism, my politics, my values,” remember: it does not reflect the Judaism, politics or values of most Israelis either.
The Israeli government we see today is the result of a tail wagging the dog, a reality facilitated by coalition politics and the desperation of Binyamin Netanyahu to regain power at almost any cost.
In many instances, people who voted based on concerns about national security find themselves appalled at policies around women’s equality, LGBTQ+ rights, the place of minorities in the country, the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and, of course, the overriding threats perceived in the attempts to meddle with the infrastructure of the Israeli judiciary – the wellspring from which much of Israel’s liberal character has come.
Most Israelis did not knowingly vote for leaders who would see the settler violence against Palestinians in the village of Huwara and endorse it, vindicate the perpetrators and incite further, even more destructive and possibly murderous violence. This latter example – of politicians (or anyone else, for that matter) openly celebrating and inciting racist violence – should disgust everyone, no matter their political stripe.
Overseas organizations that are connected with Israel – not least the Jewish Federations of North America – have spoken out officially in ways that are unprecedented in the history of Israel-Diaspora relations. Some of these statements have been comparatively mild in the minds of many observers, who view this as genuinely a time for full-throated disapproval. The fact that they are speaking out at all, however, is significant.
One of the side effects of all this is the debunking of the popular accusations that the tendency to keep negative comments within the family reflects “uncritical support for Israel.” This idea, that Zionism is a form of congenital disorder unrooted in reason, has never been true but it is now discredited. For what that’s worth.
Relatedly, individuals and groups who for years have been slandering Israel with hyperbole are now learning that they have exhausted the arsenal of vocabulary when actual events call for some strong language.
There is some reason for optimism. Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president, who has been cast by events into a role unlike the relatively ceremonial function that the office usually carries, said this week that a compromise may be in the offing on the contentious judicial reforms. Moreover, the resignation from cabinet last week of Avi Maoz, a far-right extremist, appears to be evidence that the government is wearying of fighting a multiple-front war. It is believed that Maoz realized the government wasn’t going to impose his racist, misogynistic and homophobic policies and so took his marbles home. There are reports of more turmoil in the ranks, which could drag the government and the country back toward a little sanity.
On the one hand, this should not invite a slackening of the pressure. There is a movement afoot among Diaspora Jews (and others) to discourage world leaders from meeting with extremist members of the Israeli government. Whether or not that will have much effect on anything, it is a valuable expression of revulsion for people who, like Bezalel Smotrich, incited (and then walked back) his call to “wipe out” the Palestinian village where Jewish settlers recently attacked innocent civilians.
On the other hand, anyone who is considering walking away from Israel, of abandoning the emotional energies of this fight, should consider who it is they would be abandoning in the process. A government is fleeting – although the lasting damage a single government can do is significant. But, Israel is the embodiment of the Jewish people’s national self-determination. To walk away from that is to walk away from more than bad government policy. It is to walk away from history. To walk away from everything that one’s ancestors hoped for, prayed for and built.
More importantly, it is to abandon to their own devices the very people in Israel with whom we probably most closely agree, who are struggling nobly to preserve the vision of Israel that many or most of us believe to be an ideal.
When a family member is in crisis, we do not abandon them. We engage. We help. We confront and intervene, if necessary. We do not walk away. In fact, this is precisely the moment when we dig deepest into our resources and do everything we can to make right what is wrong.
לאור תוצאות הבחירות הכלליות האחרונות שנערכו בישראל בראשית חודש נובמבר, צפוי שההגירה אל קנדה תגדל. יש ישראלים שיתייאשו מהמצב החדש בישראל, כאשר ממשלת ימין קמה בהשתתפות המפלגה הימנית קיצונית הציונות הדתית, והם מבקשים לעזוב את ישראל. כך ישראלים מתבטאים בפייסבוק
בשנים האחרונות ההגירה מישראל לקנדה נמצאת במגמת עלייה ועתה צפוי שיותר ישראלים יעברו אליה. לפי פייסבוק תומכי בנימין נתניהו, שקראו למתנגדיו “שמאלנים בוגדים” קוראים להם עכשיו “שמאלנים למטוסים”. ואכן יש סברה ישראלים לא מעטים יעזבו לחו”ל. אחד אנשי הימין כתב בפייסבוק: “לאור תוצאות הבחירות אנשי השמאל עוזבים את הארץ ולכן משבר הדיור מגיע לקיצו”. אחר מאלה שרוצים לעזוב שואל באמצעות פייסבוק: “איך עוזבים את ישראל ומהר?” התגובות: “מבקשים מקלט מדיני, משיגים דרכון פורטוגלי, זה הרבה יותר קל ממה שחושבים”. משפחה ישראלית שעברה להליפקס לפני חמש שנים כותבת בפייסבוק לאחר קיום הבחירות: “למדנו לאהוב את החיים כאן בקנדה. את השלווה, את הנופים, את האדיבות ואת השקט. אז נכון שלא הכל מושלם. ולא הכל קל. ולא הכל מרגישים שייכים. אבל בשורה התחתונה, מרגיש שכנראה עשינו את הדבר הנכון. ישראל עומדת היום בצומת דרכים, ואים להסתמך על הבחירות האחרונות, כנראה שאנחנו כבר אחרי הפניה”. תומך נתניהו שואל בפייסבוק היכן הם אלה שטענו כי אם ביבי חוזר הם יעזבו את הארץ?”
כאשר היאוש גבר ולא רואים אופטימיות בטווח הקצר או אפילו הרחוק יותר, וכאשר ערכי הדמוקרטיה של ישראל הולכים ונמסים ולעומתם ערכים ימניים קיצוניים שתופסים מקום מרכזי במדינה, יש כאלה החושבים שהגיע הזמן לעזוב. כאמור קנדה היא אחד היעדים החמים בעולם כיום עבור ישראלים, שלא רוצים לעבור לאירופה או לארצות הברית
חברת דיווידשילד המתמחה במתן שירותי ביטוח עבור ישראלים הגרים בחו”ל, מסבירה מי זו קנדה: מדובר במדינה הצפונית ביותר בצפון אמריקה, המעוררת אצל רבים אסוציאציות של קור ושלג, אבל במציאות מדובר באחת המדינות הנחשקות בעולם להגירה ולרילוקיישן עם אוכלוסייה רב תרבותית, כלכלה יציבה, טבע מרהיב, נופים עוצרי נשימה ואיכות חיים גבוהה. קנדה נחשבת לאחת ממדינות ההגירה הפופולריות ביותר בקרב ישראלים, אם זה בזכות הכלכלה החזקה שלה, אפשרויות התעסוקה הרבות, קשרי המסחר הטובים ואיכות החיים הגבוהה. קנדה נחשבה למדינה ליברלית בעלת חוקי הגירה נוחים מאוד, שמטרתם למשוך אליה כוח עבודה משכיל ומקצועי. במהלך השנים עברה מדיניות ההגירה הקנדית שינויים רבים וכיום היא מתבססת בעיקר על קריטריונים כמו השכלה, גיל, ניסיון מקצועי ושליטה בשפות. המקצועות המבוקשים בקנדה, שעבורם הסיכוי הגדול ביותר לקבל אישור עבודה, הם בתחומים הבאים: רפואה וסיעוד, מחשבים, הנדסה, חינוך לגיל הרך, מרצים באקדמיה, תרגום, פסיכולוגיה וניהול בכיר
קנדה היא מדינה ענקית, השנייה בגודלה בעולם, עם צפיפות אוכלוסייה קטנה יחסית לשטחה הגדול – מה שמהווה אטרקטיביות רבה עבור ישראלים המעוניינים ברילוקיישן. כלכלתה של קנדה נחשבת ליציבה מאוד, שוק העבודה מגוון ושכר העבודה נחשב גבוה ביחס לשעות העבודה
אפשרויות התעסוקה בקנדה עבור מהגרים ישראלים נעות בין עבודות של צעירים, כמו: עבודה בעגלות ובמכירות, עבודת שיפוצים, טיפול בילדים והדרכות נוער בקהילות היהודיות; ועד משרות בחברות ההייטק הגדולות, בתחומים כמו הנדסת תוכנה; כמו כן, משרות בתחומי הסיעוד והרפואה בבתי החולים המתקדמים ביותר בקנדה
ישראלים המעוניינים ברילוקיישן לקנדה צריכים קודם כל למצוא מעסיק חוקי שידאג עבורם לויזת עבודה. החברה המעסיקה צריכה להיות בעלת משרדים הנמצאים בקנדה ועליה לקבל היתר ממשרד העבודה הקנדי להעסקת עובד שאינו קנדי
עם איכות חיים גבוהה, שירותי בריאות טובים, חינוך איכותי, כלכלה יציבה, חברה מקבלת, קהילה יהודית ענפה, שיעור פשיעה נמוך יחסית וטבע מרהיב – החיים בקנדה נחשבים בהחלט לנוחים ומלאי הזדמנויות
מערכת הבריאות בקנדה נחשבת לאחת מהטובות בעולם ומורכבת בעיקרה ממערכת ציבורית, הממומנת על ידי הציבור (בקנדה אין כמעט בכלל רפואה פרטית, כולל בתי החולים). כל אזרח קנדי, מהגר או תושב קבע זכאי לכיסוי רפואי מלא, כלומר כל ביקור רפואי, אשפוז בבית חולים וביצוע בדיקות רפואיות ניתן בחינם ובאופן שוויוני (למעט תרופות וטיפולי שיניים). העובדה כי כל השירותים הרפואיים ניתנים בחינם, אינה גורעת מאיכותם – ההפך: תקציב הבריאות בקנדה הוא גבוה מאוד, מה שמבטיח שירותים רפואיים איכותיים ויחס אישי
הדבר הראשון שעליכם לחשוב עליו כאשר אתם מתכננים מעבר מגורים לקנדה הוא כמובן עניין המגורים. אם אתם נשלחים לרילוקיישן, סביר להניח שהחברה המעסיקה תדאג עבורכם למגורים מסובסדים על חשבונה באזור העבודה. אם אתם עצמאיים או שעליכם למצוא מקום מגורים בכוחות עצמכם, זכרו כי גובה שכר הדירה משתנה בהתאם לאזור המגורים, הביקוש וסוג הדירה. פעמים רבות משתלם יותר לבחור במקום מגורים מעט רחוק מהמרכז ולהשתמש בתחבורה הציבורית היעילה
עניין נוסף שיש לדאוג לגביו כאשר עוברים עם ילדים לקנדה הוא החינוך. קנדה נחשבת למדינה שמשקיעה רבות בחינוך ומערכת החינוך שלה נחשבת לאחת הטובות בעולם. בקנדה יש מבחר גדול של בתי ספר ציבוריים ולצדם בתי ספר פרטיים, חלקם הגדול הוא בתי ספר יהודיים. ההרשמה לבתי הספר נעשית ישירות דרך מוסד הלימודים
הבחירה בין חינוך ציבורי ופרטי תלוי בשיקולים אישיים וכלכליים, אך שתי האופציות יבטיחו לילדכם חינוך איכותי. הלימודים במערכת הציבורית הם ליברלים יותר ויחשפו את ילדיכם למפגשים עם תלמידים ממגוונים אתניים שונים. הלימודים במערכת החינוך היהודית הפרטית אינם זולים וכוללים לצד הלימודים במקצועות הכלליים גם לימודי עברית ויהדות. חשוב לדעת, כי כל תלמיד חדש הנכנס למערכת החינוך הקנדית צריך לעבור מבחן באנגלית ובמתמטיקה כדי לקבוע את רמתו. מומלץ לקבוע מועד לראיון עוד בטרם הגעתכם לקנדה
אם חשובה לכם הקהילתיות, השמירה על הצביון היהודי והקרבה לישראלים נוספים, בקנדה אתם בהחלט תרגישו בבית. יהדות קנדה היא הרביעית בגודלה בעולם (אחרי ארה”ב, צרפת וישראל) וכיום חיים בקנדה למעלה מארבע מאות אלף יהודים. הקהילות היהודיות במדינה נחשבות מפותחות מאוד, בעלות קשרי קהילה חזקים והן מעניקות תמיכה רבה וסיוע למהגרים חדשים. המוקד המרכזי של ישראלים בקנדה היא העיר טורנטו, העיר הגדולה בקנדה ובירת מחוז אונטריו, בה מתגוררת הקהילה היהודית כוללת כמאתיים אלף אלף יהודים. יעד נוסף מרכזי עבור מהגרים ישראלים היא העיר מונטריאול הנמצאת במחוז קוויבק, המחוז הגדול בקנדה. במונטריאול נמצאת הקהילה היהודית השניה בגודלה בקנדה שמונה קרוב לכמאה אלף איש. בערים נוספות שבהן תמצאו קהילות יהודיות הן: ונקובר, ויניפג, אוטווה וקלגרי
מעבר מגורים עם כל המשפחה הוא לא קל אף פעם, אבל כשמדובר במדינה כמו קנדה סביר כי לצד קשיי המעבר, תחוו קליטה נעימה בזכות החברה הקנדית המקבלת והקהילה היהודית והישראלית המחבקת. עם זאת, יש לקחת בחשבון את כל ההשלכות והאתגרים העומדים בפניכם בעת מעבר למדינה רחוקה וקרה כמו קנדה
קושי נוסף עמו אתם צפויים להתמודד הוא מזג האוויר. קנדה היא מדינה קרה מאוד, עם חורף סוער וטמפרטורות שצונחות אל מתחת לאפס, לישראלים המגיעים ממדינה חמה לוקח זמן להתרגל לקור הקנדי. היתרון כאן הוא שכל שנה תזכו לראות שלג, הילדים יוכלו לבנות בובות שלג וללמוד לגלוש
On Remembrance Day, we reflect on the sacrifices made by Canadians who fought to defend freedom. Many of us recall the solemnity of our childhoods standing in a school auditorium, first beginning to understand the meaning behind the poem “In Flanders Fields” and the moment of silence.
Similar ceremonies occur worldwide, including in places where the loss of life in wars has been far greater and more recent than our nation’s experience.
At the same time, it is impossible not to reflect on how some of the messages of tolerance, coexistence and peace seem to have been lost on leaders of various countries – as well as those who vote for them.
Across Europe, the Americas and some other places, extremism is growing. Far-right governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary advance xenophobic and scapegoating policies. While not yet reaching the highest echelons of power, far-right groups in Germany and France are growing in popularity. The defeat of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s extreme-right and volatile president, is a bright spot, though the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who beat him only by a hair, demonstrated in his previous term as president that he is also no archetype of impeccable governance.
Enormously alarming were this week’s midterm elections in the United States. More than half of the Republican candidates for Congress and state offices, including crucial officials who oversee election processes, are “election deniers” who claim that the 2020 presidential race was not rightfully won by Joe Biden. The refusal of the former president to acknowledge defeat and accede to the peaceful transition of power, hand-in-hand with the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, represent the greatest threat to American democracy since that country’s Civil War. The last two years have shown how fragile this form of governance is and how dependent it is on the goodwill of its participants to abide by the rules and accept the will of the people. The fact that about half of American voters don’t seem the least bit bothered by this reality is the scariest part.
Then, and by no means least, are the results of Israel’s most recent national elections. The good news is that, after five elections in three years, the country will apparently have a stable coalition government. The bad news is that it will include individuals whose political and moral values should be scorned by people who support democracy, pluralism and respect. Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the third-largest bloc, was forbidden from serving in the Israel Defence Forces because military leaders deemed him too extreme. Until he decided to get serious about politics, Ben-Gvir had a framed photo in his home of Baruch Goldstein, the extremist who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. His policies include annexing the West Bank and forcibly expelling (at least some of) its residents, an idea that is, put mildly, against international law, and would almost certainly lead to a serious regional conflagration.
Israelis must deal with the situation they have created. Diaspora Jews and other supporters of Israel have a tough row to hoe as well.
Jewish organizations worldwide have issued unprecedented statements of concern and condemnation about internal Israeli affairs. There has always been tension, ranging from a low simmer to a full boil, between Israel and the Diaspora over a vast range of issues. Israelis, we must state, are the ones who put their lives, and those of their children, on the line to defend the Jewish state and they alone have the right to determine its direction. This does not mean, however, that the opinions and concerns of overseas family and allies do not matter.
Israel has always lacked dependable overseas allies. In far too many instances, this has been an unfair situation driven by geopolitical issues and, to an extent, bigotry and antisemitism. But Israel is not entirely blameless in its isolation. Decades ago, Golda Meir said, “I prefer to stay alive and be criticized than be sympathized.” Sometimes, Israel needs to make unpopular choices in the interest of its security.
There are moments when Israel’s hand has been forced, when its leaders have made choices that are unpopular among outside observers but deemed necessary for national security. This is not one of those moments. Israeli voters have chosen some extremely unsavoury people to represent them. They have sown the wind. It is the responsibility of decent people in Israel and abroad – including Jewish institutions – to advocate for tolerance and human rights in order to moderate the inevitable storm.
Jonathan Lerner, left, Christine Boyle and Dan Ruimy were among the winners in the recent municipal elections. (PR photos)
Municipal elections across British Columbia brought numerous surprises and a number of defeats for incumbent mayors, notably in both of the province’s largest cities.
Ken Sim defeated Kennedy Stewart, Vancouver’s incumbent mayor while, in a far closer race, Surrey’s mayor Doug McCallum was defeated by Brenda Locke.
Most of the community members featured by the Independent Oct. 7 were not successful in their races, with two exceptions.
Jonathan Lerner, a Jewish community member who has worked with organizations including the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Hillel BC and Jewish Family Services, topped the polls on his first foray into elected office. He was elected to district council in Lantzville, which is north of Nanaimo.
Christine Boyle, who asked to be included in our coverage as part of a mixed family, was reelected to Vancouver city council as the sole successful candidate for the OneCity group, withstanding the onslaught of the overwhelming sweep by Sim’s ABC slate.
Former Liberal member of Parliament Dan Ruimy, a son of Jewish Moroccan immigrants to Canada, was elected mayor of Maple Ridge. He was inadvertently not included in our pre-election coverage.
Left to right: Fred Harding, Colleen Hardwick, Mark Marissen, Ken Sim and Kennedy Stewart at the CIJA-SUCCESS Vancouver Mayoral Pre-Election Townhall last month at Temple Sholom. (photo by Pat Johnson)
A forum for Vancouver’s leading mayoral candidates briefly descended into mayhem when candidate Ken Sim criticized the current city council for failing to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
The only other notable drama was the presence of a small group of protesters who had positioned themselves throughout the sanctuary at Temple Sholom synagogue. They rose and unfolded signs contending that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. The protesters were ejected and the meeting continued.
In addition to the incumbent, Mayor Kennedy Stewart (who is running on the Forward Together slate), and Sim (with A Better City, or ABC), invitees included Fred Harding (Non-Partisan Association), Colleen Hardwick (TEAM for a Livable Vancouver) and Mark Marissen (Progress Vancouver).
There are 15 individuals running for mayor of Vancouver. The Sept. 7 forum’s organizers, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and SUCCESS, invited those they viewed as frontrunners.
The election is a rematch after Sim was bested by Stewart in 2018 by just 984 votes. Each candidate repeatedly accused the other of misrepresenting their own record or positions and those of their opponent.
Among other conflicts, Stewart and Sim argued over comments Sim had made on CKNW radio, in which Stewart claimed that Sim had promised to cut $330 million from the city’s budget. Stewart characterized this as a “massive and radical cut,” while Sim replied that he was not speaking about cutting the budget but about reallocating funds within the budget.
Sim’s proposal to add 100 police officers as well as 100 mental health nurses to deal with crime and social problems on the street were dismissed by Stewart, who said the mayor of Vancouver does not have the authority to make those hiring decisions.
Housing was the hottest topic at the meeting, with Stewart touting the incumbent council’s record.
“Last year, we approved almost 9,000 units of housing,” Stewart said. “That is double what we approved just a decade ago. We’ve changed the way and the kind of housing we’re approving…. We used to approve about 75% of very expensive condominiums, but we’ve switched now to about 60% rental and social housing. That is a massive change.… Just last year alone, we opened and built 1,600 units of social housing, which is an absolute record.”
Sim slammed Stewart’s claim as quantity over quality.
“He believes in providing quantity of housing and having big headlines in the media,” Sim said of Stewart, “but he’s not focused on the quality. How bad do these units have to be where people would rather live in a tent on Hastings Street than in one of these unlivable units?”
Later, Sim went on the offensive again when the topic came to community safety.
“You can’t just warehouse people,” he said. “If you do not have support services, you set them up for failure, and that’s what we have done.”
Hardwick lamented that the cost of housing may be pushing her children and grandchildren away.
“I don’t want to be the last generation of my family that can afford to live in Vancouver,” she said. “I have two kids in their 30s and during this term on council I gained two grandbabies and I have to say that I’m not happy … that they are seriously considering moving to Nanaimo because they can’t see a future here. This is what we hear over and over again.”
Marissen said the city of Vancouver has lost 7,000 people in the last year, even as the province gained 60,000 new residents.
Housing, homelessness and community safety merged in the discussion. Hardwick said she, her daughter and her grandchildren went to the Chinatown Festival in July.
“We were pushing along the stroller and trying to navigate between people passed out on the sidewalk with needles in plain view,” she said. “How am I supposed to explain to my grandchildren what’s going on here? It’s just shocking.… It has been 30 years since the closure of Riverview [mental hospital] and we’ve just seen things get progressively worse. Yet we continue to perpetuate the same failed policies. We’ve seen zero improvement and I’d like to hear anybody here saying we have an improved situation. What’s the solution? If we’re spending $1 million a day down there, maybe we better analyze where that money is going.”
Marissen seconded Hardwick’s words, saying there should be an audit of what is being spent in the Downtown Eastside.
Harding, a retired police officer, positioned himself as the voice of experience on safety.
“You cannot have harm reduction and safer supply without access to treatment,” he said. “We have to increase the treatment for people who are addicted and going through a crisis on our streets. I’m here basically because of this issue. I spent 30 years as a police officer. I understand what we need to do and how we need to work on strategic targeting of criminals. We have to work on cleaning up the streets and we do that by targeting the 3% who commit 95% of the crime.”
Stewart said the city is providing “wraparound services, including complex care,” to people who require them and accused opponents of advocating policing where medical interventions are needed.
“There is no way we are going to arrest our way out of it and that’s what a lot of my colleagues here at the table are pointing to,” Stewart said.
“Don’t let Mr. Kennedy [Stewart] trick you into believing that we are trying to police our way out of this,” Sim responded, saying that a range of responses are needed to confront what has become a dangerous situation, including for visible minorities. “In the last four years, our city has become more unsafe. Mayor Stewart was on the news saying that he felt safe in our city. Being a person of Chinese descent, I don’t have that same experience. In fact, residents across the city have told me over and over again that they do not feel safe.”
Safety as it pertains to minorities, including the Jewish community, emerged repeatedly. Sim noted that it was Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung, who is running on Sim’s ABC slate, who proposed the adoption of the Working Definition of Antisemitism during the current council’s term.
“And Mayor Stewart actually voted it down,” Sim said. “I think it’s incredibly important that council [adopt the definition] so VPD can actually define what an antisemitic hate crime is.”
“The rise in antisemitism and the rise of anti-Asian hate has been profound,” said Marissen. “It’s a tragedy. Leadership matters.”
He said it wasn’t long ago that local politicians were accusing Asian people of causing the housing crisis in Vancouver. He said he would adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism and urged more diversity work in schools.
“We need to educate our kids,” Marissen said. “It’s really important that people understand the history of all of this. We also need to give support to interfaith and intercultural groups.”
Voters throughout British Columbia will elect new mayors, councilors, school trustees and (depending on the jurisdiction) other officials on Oct. 15.
Over the past several decades, terms for municipal officials have gone from two years to three years to, now, four years. This makes the significance of these elections greater, as the choices we make as voters will last four years. (This longer commitment also may be one reason for what seems like an unusually large number of elected officials opting not to seek reelection this year.)
It is notable that voter turnout in municipal elections is almost always lower – often far lower – than in provincial and federal elections. In some ways, this is understandable. The “senior” levels of government are associated with greater powers, which may be true, and with portfolios that may seem “sexier.” Foreign affairs are more exciting than sewage (generally speaking) and the proper functioning of our healthcare system is, for many of us, literally a life-and-death matter, which the mowing of boulevards is not.
Local government issues, however, often affect our lives in the most intimate and powerful ways. Anyone who has traveled in places without well-functioning local governments sees the evidence around them. Uncollected garbage amasses on boulevards and in public spaces. Feral cats, dogs and rodents roam largely unhampered. Petty, even serious, crime may be rampant. In other words, when civic government is running as it should, it is often invisible. When it is not, it can make ordinary life difficult or, at worst, impossible.
As often-privileged citizens of developed Western countries, we can sometimes use hyperbole about the challenges facing our communities. Overheated rhetoric about issues as comparatively banal as bike lanes, which demand that car drivers share a bit of the road with cyclists, can become so frenzied one might think a cabal of medieval tyrants had stormed the ramparts at 12th and Cambie. We should really put things in perspective.
Successful cities are, in their way, modern miracles. It is precisely their success that blinds us to their exceptionalism. Imagine: no matter where you live in Vancouver, a truck comes past your home once a week to collect the recycling you leave on the curb, knowing it will be collected (depending on the weather) without incident. Your children are within walking distance of public schools that are of truly outstanding quality by any measure of time or place. The bus we curse for not showing up at the exact moment we arrive at the stop is, for all our complaining, a remarkable operation. Hundreds of small cogs combine to make a city run.
Of course, we have complaints. A recent Leger poll indicates that 48% of Vancouver respondents (and, for example, 60% in Surrey) said things in their city have gotten worse in the past four years. This may be true. Certainly there are serious issues affecting residents, including but not limited to a housing affordability crisis, widening inequality, a drug poisoning crisis, and the impacts of climate change. And yet, for many, things are still pretty good.
This is not to say that voters should not always be pushing our elected officials to be better and do much, much better; merely that we need to remember that we live in one of the most fortunate places in the world, with millions of people envying that which we take for granted. Things can be better, at all levels of government, but the occasional language we hear that our governments are “broken” or “failing” is shortsighted and out of proportion.
The at-large system, which operates in Vancouver and every other city in British Columbia, is a barrier to an informed electorate. Voters in the City of Vancouver, for example, are expected to make educated choices for one mayor, 10 city councilors, nine school trustees and seven park commissioners from – by our count – 138 candidates who are contesting these positions this year. There is no earthly way even the wonkiest voter could adequately inform themselves about the pros and cons of this many contestants.
But we should do our best. The adage that those who don’t vote have no right to complain is nonsense. Everyone has the right to complain.
But voting is not only a right, a franchise. It is an obligation. For whatever flaws B.C. communities might have, all of our cities and towns remain among the finest societies anyone could hope to live in. To preserve and strengthen the places where we live, voting is, almost literally, the least we can do.
As part of the Jewish Independent’s election coverage, we have traditionally profiled members of the community seeking elective office. And this year’s Oct. 15 municipal elections are no different.
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Christine Boyle, Vancouver council candidate (incumbent)
Christine Boyle was elected to Vancouver city council in 2018 representing OneCity. She asked to be included in the Independent’s coverage as a member of a mixed family.
Boyle, who describes herself as a community organizer, climate justice leader and United Church minister, is married to author and public policy researcher Seth Klein. They are raising two children in East Vancouver.
Boyle said she has spent her first term on city council “working tirelessly to strengthen tenant protections, and make it faster and easier to build social, co-op, nonprofit and rental housing in every neighbourhood of Vancouver.” Her other priorities include public transportation, safer walking and cycling infrastructure, increased funding for curb ramps, public washrooms “and other tangible improvements to access and community health.”
“I am running for a second term on council, alongside a strong team of OneCity Vancouver candidates, because of my deep concern about the housing crisis, the climate emergency and the toxic drug crisis,” she told the Independent. “And I’m running because I know there’s so much more we can do.”
“My husband Seth was raised in a culturally Jewish home, the child of a secular Jewish father and a spiritually rooted Jewish mother,” she said. “When we were first dating, I remember him asking if he thought our religious differences would be a problem for our families, and my response was that we had much more in common than not.
“Throughout my upbringing, my theological training and my time working in religious leadership, I have constantly sought out opportunities to connect across faiths on shared issues of importance, from climate, to discrimination and anti-racism, to Indigenous rights, and more.
“More than a decade later, these values continue to be core to my family. The ketubah [marriage contract] that hangs on our bedroom wall reminds us daily of our shared commitment to tikkun olam, the struggle to rebuild and repair the world, to find our shared place in the centuries-old movements for equality and interdependence.
“We have worked hard to instil a sense of awe in our children and a connection to the faith and cultural traditions of their people,” said Boyle. “Our kids have attended programs at Or Shalom and the Peretz Centre. I became a regular challah baker. And we reach out to friends and leaders in our faith communities as we navigate how to raise good kids in the world these days.”
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Ken Charko, Vancouver council candidate
Ken Charko is running as a Non-Partisan Association Vancouver candidate.
“I have always had a connection to the Jewish community,” Charko told the Independent.
In his capacity as owner of the Dunbar Theatre and as a director on the board of the Motion Picture Theatre Association of British Columbia, he has been mentioned in the Independent over the years. Noting that he was profiled by former Menschenings columnist Alex Kliner in 2014, Charko said, “I have always been supporter of the arts and their importance in our community and the special connection the Jewish community has with the arts.”
Charko has run for Vancouver city councilor three times as an NPA candidate and, in 2018, as a candidate of the now-defunct Coalition Vancouver party. He said his top policy priorities concern “public safety and crime, including hate crimes; housing, including co-op housing on city land; arts venues and small business.”
While he initially thought of running in a federal election, he said, “Municipal politics is ‘touch politics,’ you feel the people and hear directly what each community needs and is looking for in an elected representative.”
He still has a lot of issues at the federal level that he wants to champion, he said, including “support for Israel, strong foreign policy, taxation fiscal policy and support for Ukraine,” but that, locally, he “can champion those policies more effectively as an elected council candidate.”
Charko acknowledged that “almost everyone running in this election wants the same thing I have mentioned above, including reduced tax increases. The choice for voters is who can get these things done. I am that person. I have always done that. As the only independent movie theatre owner on the Motion Picture Association board, I was able to get things done working with others.”
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Jonathan Lerner, District of Lantzville council candidate
Jonathan Lerner is running for council in Lantzville, which is immediately north of Nanaimo.
“I grew up in the Jewish community in Vancouver, attending Talmud Torah, Temple Sholom and working for many Jewish organizations,” Lerner told the Independent. He has a degree in philosophy from the University of British Columbia and has worked with many nonprofit organizations.
“These have included many Jewish organizations, such as Hillel BC, CIJA, Jewish Family Services of Vancouver and the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre,” Lerner said.
“During my career, I have helped to uplift communities through the power of the charitable sector, including raising millions of dollars for employment services, food banks, immigration services, animal welfare, student education and scholarships, anti-racism initiatives, and more,” he said. “While I intend to continue my career in the not-for-profit sector, I hope to put my experience in finance, management and community development to use in helping Lantzville fulfil its slogan of being a ‘lovable, livable’ community.”
His top political priorities include bringing more services directly to the people of Lantzville, such as library book-mobiles, preserving Lantzville’s scenic landscape and natural beauty, expanding councilor office hours, public hearings and town halls, and ramping up emergency preparedness for earthquakes, floods, fires, landslides and other major disasters.
“My Jewish education and upbringing have definitely affected my community connections and outlook, while spurring me to get involved in politics,” said Lerner. “I believe strongly in the value of tikkun olam and the need to help those who are vulnerable become vulnerable no longer. This has been a major source of my motivation for community and charitable involvement. I sincerely hope that municipal politics will be the next step in the evolution of my work toward building a better world.”
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Ellison Mallin, District of North Vancouver council candidate
Ellison Mallin was born and raised in North Vancouver. He has a degree in political science and a record of volunteerism, which led him to his current full-time position as constituency assistant for MLA Susie Chant. Ellison has served on North Vancouver’s Rental, Social and Affordable Housing Taskforce and the Community Services Advisory Committee, acting as the chair in 2022. He has coached in the North Shore Inline Hockey League and also has worked in the music industry.
“Housing affordability is the number one issue for me in this election,” he said. “We are losing workers and our sense of community because people can no longer afford to live on the North Shore. This causes a chain reaction that leads to many of our other top problems, like traffic and public safety. Solving our housing problems needs to be done as a priority so that we may address other issues.
“I also have a dedicated platform on transportation solutions, better spending and planning, environmental leadership, improving civic engagement and improving the health of our community,” Mallin said.
“I am the great-great-grandson of Rabbi David Belasoff, who was the first full-time Orthodox rabbi in Vancouver,” Mallin said. “He led the B’nai Yehuda (now Schara Tzedeck). My grandparents, Lil and Lloyd Mallin, used to host amazing Passover, Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah dinners, but when they passed those did not continue. I did take my Birthright trip in 2016 to explore Israel and became more connected with the Jewish community in Vancouver as a result. Connecting to the community really did help me find my identity and gave me a lot of the confidence I needed to put myself out there in electoral politics.… I attend the occasional social events that I am available for, and I do go to some public events held by Har El in West Vancouver. For me, the biggest barrier to attending more events is the traffic and distance to them from North Vancouver and would love to see more Jewish community opportunities in North Van.”
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Carla Frenkel, Vancouver Park Board candidate
Carla Frenkel has more than a decade of experience in architecture, working on affordable housing, urban design, and environmental responsibility. She is running for park board with Vision Vancouver.
“Finding alignment with Canadian values, we decided to immigrate to Vancouver [from the United States] in 2014,” she said. “We found an amazing community in Strathcona, anchored around Maclean Park, our community centre and gardens. Since 2018, I have been president of the Strathcona Community Garden, where I coordinate hundreds of volunteers, leading stewardship of Vancouver’s largest community garden. There, I spearhead a wetland project, which manages storm water while improving biodiversity. A mother of three, I chair the Strathcona PAC’s school grounds committee,” she said.
“Today we face monumental challenges of aging infrastructure, climate change and reconciliation,” said Frenkel. “From this arises unique opportunities to create resilient parks and community centres that serve the diverse needs of residents.”
Frenkel’s identity and core values are intrinsically tied to being Jewish, she said.
“I grew up in a progressive Reform synagogue, which reinforced tikkun olam, interconnectedness, social and environmental justice and mitzvot,” she said. “In high school, I followed suit, joining NFTY [the Reform Jewish youth movement], actively leading, planning services and gatherings. In university, I worked at the Berkeley Hillel, where I met my husband. Today, we are part of the Or Shalom community, where we share these traditions and values with our children.”
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John Irwin, Vancouver Park Board candidate (incumbent)
John Irwin was elected to the Vancouver Park Board in 2018 with the Coalition of Progressive Electors and is seeking reelection with Vision Vancouver. Like Boyle, he is part of a mixed family and his spouse is Jewish.
He holds a PhD specializing in sustainable urban development, works as a lecturer at Simon Fraser University and Alexander College and also has worked as a policy analyst for the Tenant’s Rights Action Coalition (now the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, B.C. office. He worked in fair trade retail from 1996 to 2006. He is a father of three school-aged kids and lives in the Fairview neighbourhood.
Irwin has served on boards including the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, Friends of False Creek (now the False Creek Watershed Society) and the West End Residents Association. He was chair of the Henry Hudson Out-of-School Society and is an advocate for affordable childcare.
“I am running for reelection with Vision Vancouver as a park board commissioner, as I think that we have much more to achieve regarding the climate crisis, active transportation, ‘reconcili-action’ and accessible and affordable parks and recreation,” he said. “In my first term, I brought forward many successful motions: the Stanley Park Mobility Study focuses on reducing automobile traffic and promotes active transportation by increasing cycling, walking and public transit in the park while increasing accessibility for those with disabilities; a motion requesting the Port Authority give the park board the go-ahead to work with the local First Nations to plan and build an Indigenous cultural healing centre in CRAB Park; a recent motion asking staff to design fully accessible playgrounds for all children, which will help those with disabilities play with their peers in an active and inclusive way.
“I have also been a strong voice against discrimination of all types: antisemitism, Sinophobia and Islamophobia, etc.,” said Irwin.
“For many years, I have found the Vancouver Jewish community to be very welcoming,” he said. “Although I am not Jewish, many synagogues have welcomed me, my partner who is Jewish and my three children, who have all attended Hebrew school. Our children celebrated their b’nai mitzvahs at Beth Israel Synagogue, where we regularly attend as members. The practice of mitzvah has reinforced my activism to do my part in making our society in Vancouver socially just and sustainable. I am inspired by the practices of atonement and ecological consciousness, such as that found in Tu b’Shevat, the Jewish new year for trees.”
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Kyla Epstein, Vancouver School Board candidate
Kyla Epstein’s family left South Africa before she was born.
“I was raised in Toronto on the shoulders of my parents going to anti-apartheid rallies, marching in Pride protests, and attending public, alternative schools that were child-centred, social-justice-focused and showed me that public education and learning can take many forms,” she said.
“Over the past two decades, my curiosity and desire to build relationships have led me to work in a variety of sectors, including business, philanthropy and nonprofit (including two years in Guatemala) and labour, before moving into my current role doing government and stakeholder relations at BCIT [B.C. Institute of Technology].”
Epstein has served on many boards and was a trustee and chair of the Vancouver Public Library board. She is now on the boards of the Vancouver Writers Festival, the Laurier Institution and the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. She has served on school parent advisory council executives for more than 10 years and is currently pursuing a master’s degree. She is running with OneCity.
“High-quality public education is one of the best ways that we, as a society, can care for future generations,” Epstein said. “Funding for the public school system should appropriately reflect the value of public education, not just for students and families currently in the system, but for communities and society more broadly.”
If elected, she said, she will advocate for funding to ensure that students with a range of diverse needs can thrive and every teacher and worker has the tools and resources they need; address climate change; stand up against any form of discrimination in schools; fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples across the school district and develop reciprocal relationships with local First Nations for all planning decisions, especially those related to school board land; and improve Vancouver School Board governance by listening to people, being accountable and considering those who are most impacted.
“While not raised religiously, it is hard for me to untangle my identity from my being Jewish,” she said. “Many of my most special memories, or the moments that formed my sense of self, are grounded in Jewishness. Holidays such as Pesach have always been important to me because it is a regular reminder, through stories and songs, of the ongoing struggles for justice and liberation.
“I also feel a kinship with the emphasis on asking questions that is a part of my Jewishness,” she added. “The stories shared in my family about persecution faced by Jews have certainly contributed to how I see the world. Family stories of unwilling migration are regular reminders to me that everyone’s dignity and safety be upheld all around the world. My parents’ very difficult choice to leave South Africa and the activism I was raised with were rooted in the lessons of tikkun olam and I draw upon those lessons regularly.”
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Fred Harding’s diverse DNA
During the mayoral candidates’ forum held at Temple Sholom Sept. 7, Non-Partisan Association candidate Fred Harding made a brief reference that he could become Vancouver’s first Jewish mayor. (He couldn’t. David Oppenheimer, Vancouver’s second mayor, was Jewish.)
The Independent asked Harding about his roots after the meeting.
“My mother is from Germany – and my family was Jewish,” he said. “After she married my father, all my siblings were raised in Catholicism. My mother actually converted later on to Mormonism, so the Jewish faith was never practised in our home. The tragedy is that my family remained in Germany and so I never had a connection to the Jewish faith.”
At the age of 14, however, Harding traveled to Germany and met some of his great-aunts, who had been persecuted in the war and later received financial compensation.
He also has visited Congregation Har El.
“I had some very dear friends bring me to the temple in West Vancouver probably 12 years ago and that was my first experience,” he said. “I actually felt very, very welcome.”
He sees his family’s diversity as a benefit as he seeks to lead one of the world’s most multicultural cities.
“This is only a fraction of my DNA. I’m a German Jewish Catholic with a Mormon mother, a Christian father who came from Africa. I’m married to a Chinese lady, my granddaughter is Chinese, my eldest daughter is blonde and blue-eyed,” he said. “I feel the privilege of representing just about everything and I’m honuored for that background in my DNA.”
Voters across British Columbia choose local officials on Saturday, Oct. 15. Remaining advance voting days in Vancouver are on Oct. 8, 11 and 13 and vote-by-mail ballots can be requested until Oct. 11. For full details see vancouver.ca or your local municipal website.
The Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?” (image from Wikipedia)
Civic politics generally deals with maintaining roads and sewers, reviewing development applications and a vast range of close-to-the-ground issues. But municipal politics has also been a place where a vast range of other issues are discussed. For example, Vancouver city council voted in 1983 to declare the city a “nuclear weapons free zone” and, formally or informally, members of council have felt free to address topics of national and global concern.
During debate around the city’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism – which a majority of council voted to refer to committee, effectively defeating it – critics of the definition warned that it could place limits on the right to criticize Israel, despite that the definition explicitly states that it is legally non-binding. While the condemnation of antisemitism is not an international issue, examples accompanying the definition included several relating to anti-Zionism.
Because of the history of using civic positions as platforms for international issues, the Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?”
Christine Boyle, the incumbent Vancouver city councilor who voted to refer the IHRA issue to committee, said that commenting on international affairs is not generally part of the role of a city councilor.
“And there are so many important issues and struggles locally that continue to be the focus of my attention,” she said. “But my practice on any topic is to listen to and engage with communities most impacted on an issue, always seeking to uphold human rights, peace and justice.
“I have spent much of my adult life actively engaged in justice work, including opposing and challenging hate and discrimination, and working to strengthen the human rights of all people,” she continued. “I am deeply committed to challenging antisemitism and ensuring that Jewish residents in Vancouver feel safe at home, at worship, and everywhere.
“When a motion came to council asking Vancouver to adopt the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, council received hundreds of emails on the subject, with a diverse range of perspectives on the topic,” said Boyle. “Even my own Jewish family members didn’t all agree on the issue. What I heard clearly from the community was that, while there wasn’t agreement on this definition, there was absolutely a need for the city to do more to address antisemitism and racism. And so council referred the definition to the City of Vancouver’s Racial and Cultural Equity Advisory Committee, with direction for staff to continue working vociferously to address antisemitism and other forms of racism and hate. Since then I have worked hard each budget cycle to ensure our anti-racism and anti-hate efforts are well funded and supported, and will continue that work.”
Vancouver council candidate Ken Charko told the Independent, “Yes, I would use my position as a city councilor as a platform to discuss international affairs [and] yes support of Israel will be part of that platform…. I support Canada moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I would use my position as a Vancouver city councilor and federal Conservative member to outline why Canada should do that under the next Conservative government.”
John Irwin, an incumbent member of the Vancouver Park Board, switched from the Coalition of Progressive Electors last election to Vision Vancouver this election because, he said, “There was a disagreement with COPE regarding their lack of acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism (which was accepted by the Canadian government).”
He added: “As a local politician, I generally use my platform to discuss local issues.”
Carla Frenkel, also a candidate for the Vancouver Park Board, said simply: “I have no intention to use the role of park board commissioner as a platform for international affairs.”
Kyla Epstein, who is seeking a seat on the Vancouver School Board, said that, to her knowledge, international affairs do not regularly come up at the school board table, nor is it generally within the scope of the role of a trustee to take a position on international affairs.
“What I do know is that I bring to the role a deep commitment to human rights and an opposition to antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and all forms of discrimination, racism and hatred,” she said. “In addition, my approach to governance is to listen, welcome different perspectives and reduce barriers for public and stakeholder participation – on any issue. I will fight to uphold a public education system that is a place of learning, curiosity and questioning. I will, no matter the issue that comes to the school board table, reach out to communities, listen and learn, and make my decisions to uphold human rights and equality.”
Ellison Mallin, running for council in the District of North Vancouver, said, “I am always discussing international issues with people, as, in this increasingly connected world, events that happen anywhere can affect us here.
“I do not intend to use any municipal specific platforms, or my position, to bring up Israel and Palestine, and will keep discussions on the subject to appropriate venues. I do recognize that, given my religion, there will likely be comments and questions directed to me, which I will not shy away from,” he said. “I strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist. A safe place for Jewish people to live and to foster Jewish identity and culture is needed. Perhaps, sadly, it is needed now more than ever, as we do see a rise in antisemitism in many areas. On that note, I do not deny Palestine’s right to exist, and believe a two-state solution is needed. I would also like to see Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank, as this further creates divides and hostilities.”
Jonathan Lerner, council candidate in Lantzville, said he does not see Middle Eastern affairs coming into play in Lantzville politics. But, he added: “Everyone familiar with my work will know that I am a strong advocate for respectful dialogue on these issues.
“Where I think municipal governments can play a larger role is in diversity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives,” said Lerner. “Many communities, including the Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities, have been targeted by an increase in hate crimes in Canada. Municipalities have a key role to play in addressing this issue. For example, governments of all levels are considering adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, as well as other racism classifications that help to define and address discrimination.”
Tony Yacowar will be vying for a seat on the Victoria city council this Oct. 15. Among his stated priorities, if elected, are affordable housing, addressing climate change and amalgamation within the Greater Victoria region.
Housing in Victoria, as in Metro Vancouver, is a primary concern among residents. Yacowar hopes to help pass the “Missing Middle Initiative,” a long-debated but deferred policy that he says would make it easier to add more housing units to areas of the city that have been traditionally residential.
“Victoria has an urgent housing crisis and we need leadership that will articulate a cohesive vision for the city in order to build the housing we need. We have an immediate deficit of between 4,500 and 6,300 homes. People need places to live. This impacts absolutely every aspect of city life. The healthcare crisis in this province is exacerbated by the fact that doctors and nurses can’t find places to live. We all want safe communities to live in and, if we aren’t able to provide housing to folks experiencing homelessness, we aren’t able to have safe communities for the long term,” Yacowar said.
“Gentle densification of our residential neighbourhoods is an important aspect of how we are going to accommodate the next generation of doctors and nurses, small business owners, artists and young professionals. Folks at all income levels need places to live. Missing Middle is not the solution to the affordability crisis, but it is the solution to the question of ‘where are these folks going to live?’”
Further, Yacowar would like to build density around the Douglas Street Corridor, the main thoroughfare linking the Victoria’s downtown and uptown, to support light rail transit. According to Yacowar, there is a strong connection between more homes and better transit in terms of reducing a city’s carbon footprint overall.
Yacowar is also pressing for amalgamation. “We need a cohesive vision for our city and we can’t have each municipality doing its own thing,” he said. “A city of 245,000 would be better able to advocate for more support from senior levels of government when it comes to housing and transit than a city of 91,000.”
A certified public accountant who is currently the chief financial officer at Royal Mountain Records, Yacowar regards having no prior involvement in politics as an advantage.
“I think it’s important to have a diverse set of views and backgrounds on council,” he said. “We don’t often get accountants in politics and I think there is a real benefit to having someone at the table with the kind of organizational and financial background that a CPA would bring, as well as someone representing the Jewish and LGBTQ communities. Quite often we have career politicians and bureaucrats running for office, but our democracy is at its best when we have folks of diverse backgrounds bringing different points of view to the table.”
Of the eight present councilors in Victoria, only one, Ben Isitt, is seeking reelection. Five councilors elected in 2018 are stepping down and two are running for mayor. Isitt, too, identifies as a member of the Jewish community.
Isitt has served as a city councillor and regional director since 2011. His short bio on the City of Victoria website notes that he is an author, historian and legal scholar, who has taught at the University of Victoria and other institutions. It notes: “Ben’s involvement in civic politics builds from grassroots volunteer work for social and ecological justice, in support of worker rights, climate action, Indigenous rights, non-violence, the abolition of poverty and racism, and protection of forests and farmland. Ben’s research on housing, land use, forestry and public education reflect this community-based approach, as does his hands-on experience as a former housing support worker with Victoria’s street community.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.