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HomeBusinessInternal City of Vancouver email exposes ongoing strife over Israel-Hamas war 

Internal City of Vancouver email exposes ongoing strife over Israel-Hamas war 

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Bob Mackin 

When Vancouver’s city manager apologized at the end of November for his memo about the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack, new complaints arose. 

“I am sorry to anyone who felt that I downplayed this or that it may have opened a door to Islamophobia in our workplace,” Paul Mochrie wrote Nov. 28 about his “Response to Terrorist Attacks against Israel” memo.

Paul Mochrie (Vancouver Economic Commission)

Mochrie maintained he did not intend to overlook the suffering of Palestinians when he sent the 166-word message that offered sympathies to the Jewish community, urged colleagues to support each other and reach out to counsellors, if necessary. 

Some members of staff concerned with the rise of antisemitism disagreed with the apology, according to email obtained under freedom of information. An employee, whose name and title were censored, pointed to anti-Israel protests near and far.  

“We have not seen widespread riots and protests in Canada where similarly violent slogans against Muslims are being shouted,” said the Nov. 28 reply. “I’m concerned that your e-mail further stigmatizes and minimizes the unique violence Jewish people face today – many no longer wearing visible symbols of their faith. We should be able to talk about antisemitism without mentioning islamophobia, and vice versa.”

Said another on Nov. 30: “The Oct 7th attack had nothing to do with Palestinian suffering and everything to do with Jewish hate, which I thought your note respectfully addressed. Knowing after your Oct 10th note, members of this workforce felt that you needed to mention Palestinian suffering at the same time incites fear that people I work with hold a bias against Jews. Although I have thankfully not experienced any hate in the workplace, I don’t feel comfortable knowing I have colleagues who hold antisemitic values.” 

Mochrie’s original memo drew eight email complaints. One of the first responses on Oct. 10 said civilians in Gaza are not all members of Hamas, they have been living in very difficult conditions for years and were suddenly subject to shelling. 

“By only recognizing the attacks on Israel, you are also erasing the heritage of a large group of Canadians and Vancouverites of Palestinian descent whose indigenous lands were violently stolen from them,” said the email. “As a City of Truth and Reconciliation, we cannot cherry pick which colonization is okay and which is not.”

Another called Mochrie’s statement dehumanizing and made the workplace uncomfortable and potentially unsafe. General manager of community services Sandra Singh intervened Oct. 13, to “recognize the heartbreaking human toll the current conflict in Israel and Gaza has had and continues to have – a devastating and heart-breaking impact on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.”

The complainant was not satisfied, calling Singh’s statement an “appeasement of my concerns with Paul’s statement.”

Another, on Oct. 13, suggested Mochrie could have handled it differently. “For example, we can be horrified by violence while also being critical of the conditions that led to them.”

Within an Oct. 12 compilation of comments from several workers was this: “Perhaps if the city was to take sides on such a complex humanitarian crisis, it’s better not to say anything at all.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ken Sim was on the receiving end of criticism from a local Muslim leader on Wednesday at the ceremony to proclaim Jan. 29 as the Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia in Vancouver. It will be the seventh anniversary of the rampage shooting murder of six people at a Quebec City mosque.

“I think we can learn a lot, embracing the culture and the Muslim community and the preachings. I think it’s absolutely fabulous,” Sim said. “I speak for our entire council when we say, we love the community and we are here for you.”

Imam Mufti Shujaath, however, said city officials did not show enough sympathy to his community after Oct. 7.

“If we cannot expect this much from you, then who else we should go to, and who else should we turn to?” Shujaath said. “Because that is what really bothers us the most.”

On Tuesday, Sim and city council hosted Holocaust survivor Prof. Peter Suedfeld and Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver CEO Ezra Shanken to proclaim Jan. 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the city.

“May next year be a year of furthering of peace and the opportunity for love to win above hate,” Shanken said at the end of the ceremony. 

One of the ABC majority’s first moves in office in November 2022 was to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. City hall was lit Oct. 8 in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, to which Sim declared: “the City of Vancouver will always stand with the people of Israel.” 

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