After roadblocks last year, Georgia Legislature passes bill defining antisemitism

Photo via John F. Kennedy/Twitter

From SJL and JNS reports

The Georgia state Senate voted 44-6 on Jan. 25 to pass a bill that uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism to define Jew-hatred in state law.

The legislation, which now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, had passed the state House 129-5.

Kemp, who visited Israel for the first time last year, has said he will sign the bill because it “builds on our commitment to protect Georgians from criminal acts, including those based on hate.”

Georgia has a hate crimes law that calls for enhanced penalties in crimes motivated by bias. This bill uses the IHRA definition as a guide in determining if anti-Jewish bias was present as a crime was committed.

Georgia state representatives Esther Panitch, a Democrat, and John Carson, a Republican, led the legislation, which calls on state agencies to define Jew-hatred “as provided for in the working definition of antisemitism and the contemporary examples of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”

The definition considers antisemitism to be “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.”

Another section of IHRA notes that some anti-Israel activity crosses the line into antisemitism, but criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country is not to be considered antisemitic.

Anti-Israel groups oppose the IHRA definition, saying it would chill their right of free speech in advocating against Israel by labeling any criticism of Israel to be antisemitic, but the IHRA application comes only after a crime has been committed.

A coalition of about 20 Jewish groups and Christians United for Israel held a Georgia Fight Antisemitism Capitol Day on Jan. 25 to advocate for the legislation, saying House Bill 30 helps “ensure that antisemitism is treated under the law comparably to any other form of bigotry or racism.”

Free speech concerns were a roadblock in the House last year, as some Democrats objected to the bill, citing perceived effects on pro-Palestinian groups. The bill did pass the House last March, but there was no action in the Senate as Republican Sen. Ed Setzler objected based on freedom of speech, and offered an amendment to change the definition from “a certain perception of Jews” to “a negative perception of Jews.” That amendment passed, without the support of Panitch or Carson, but by then it was too late for the bill to pass in that session.

The failure to pass the bill last year was magnified during the summer, with brazen demonstrations by antisemitic groups. Last June, a group demonstrated outside Temple Beth Israel in Macon, shouting obscenities and hanging a blow-up doll by the neck from a street sign. The doll was to represent a gay Jewish man. In August, a group hung antisemitic flyers outside Beth Israel, and similar flyers were distributed elsewhere in the state.

Despite being in recovery from a concussion, Beth Israel Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar testified before a House committee earlier this week about the importance of protecting the Jewish community and assisting law enforcement.

The day before Bahar testified, a committee hearing was interrupted as protestors shouting “Free Palestine” had to be removed from the room.

The surge of antisemitism since the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas also motivated the bill’s passage.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to my colleagues and leaders, who listened to the Jewish community about what we were being subjected to with antisemitism and took action,” Panitch, the only Jewish member of the Georgia state legislature, told JNS after the bill passed.

Chris Carr, the attorney general of Georgia, wrote that HB30 is important amid rising antisemitism. “In Georgia, we continue to push back against these acts of evil and in support of our Jewish friends and neighbors,” he stated. “We’re thankful to our General Assembly for sending a message that antisemitism has no place in our state.”

Rabbi Ari Weisenfeld, associate national director of state relations for Agudah Israel of America, encouraged other states to follow suit.

“Agudath Israel is especially grateful to Representatives Panich and Carson for championing the bill last year and for continuing to advocate for it this year,” he stated. “We also thank Senate President Pro Tempore John Kennedy for sponsoring the bill in the Senate.”

Jordan Cope, policy education director at StandWithUs, attended the vote.

“With antisemitism having exploded worldwide post-Oct. 7, the IHRA definition remains a tool of paramount importance for helping identify and quell the mounting tide of antisemitism,” he stated. “Georgia’s moral clarity on this matter sets a clear example from which other states ought to draw inspiration as Jews around the world desperately seek assurances of their own safety.”

Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consul General for Israel in the Southeast, based in Atlanta, simply said “Thank you for standing strong against antisemitism!”