Antisemitism bill fails to pass as Georgia finishes legislative session

Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. Credit: DXR via Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS) — By the wee hours of the morning on March 30, a deadline came and passed without the Georgia State Senate voting on an antisemitism bill. Senators threw paper in the air like confetti as the legislative body adjourned at 12:16 a.m., which means that the bill will be shelved until the body takes it up again in January.

“Pausing the bill now will help to ensure that it ultimately passes intact in early 2024. It seems the votes were in place for bipartisan passage on this final day of session, but that would have involved having to overcome several drawn out, hostile amendment attempts by opponents,” Joseph Sabag, executive director of Israeli-American Coalition for Action, told JNS.

“There was simply not enough time left for the senate to dedicate today. Given the dramatic increase in antisemitism happening around us, the nature of the opposition this bill encountered is not coincidental,” he added. “We will be educating policymakers further in the interim, and we will, of course, come back in January even stronger to get the job done.”

The bill, which encountered difficulty in the Georgia House, aimed to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism into state law. The House voted 136-22 to pass the bill, whose sponsors included Esther Panitch, a Democrat and the state’s lone Jewish legislator.

Neither the state House’s nor Senate’s version of the bill included the examples that accompany the IHRA definition, and the House version quoted some of its text, while the Senate’s only referred to it, per the Atlanta Jewish Times. In the Senate, the bill text was appended to a different bill, becoming a “zombie” bill, added the Jewish Times.

Representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations lobbied against the bill, and Sen. Ed Setzler, a Republican, appended his own definition of antisemitism to the Senate version.

Panitch said it was “devastating” to watch the legislature ignore the state’s Jewish community. “Yhose who fought against this bill, don’t you dare tell me how sorry you are about antisemitism. You are the problem,” she tweeted.

“No matter how this ends, Jewish Atlanta’s major organizations will want to figure out how their top legislative priority reached such a precarious state,” Dave Schechter wrote in an op-ed in the paper. “In the parlance of March Madness, the game plan went awry, the opponent proved more wily than anticipated and unforced errors did not help.”

With staff reports.