Antisemitism Bill Comes Down to the Wire

Antisemitism Bill Comes Down to the Wire

"Zombie bill" must be approved by both the Senate and House on Wednesday — or wait until next year.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Legislation to define antisemitism was not passed in the most recent session of the Georgia legislature.
Legislation to define antisemitism was not passed in the most recent session of the Georgia legislature.

Legislation to define antisemitism in Georgia’s legal code will hinge on two votes that must happen Wednesday March 29 — the last day of the General Assembly’s session.

Passage will require approval first by the Senate and then the House. The votes must happen in that order because the bill, initially passed by the House, was amended by a Senate committee.

The Senate could have voted on the measure Monday but adjourned without doing so. There is no guarantee that both votes will happen Wednesday, as the last day of session usually is the most chaotic.

Approval in both chambers would send the bill to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

Incorporating the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in the state code was the top legislative priority of Jewish Atlanta’s major communal organizations.

The IHRA definition reads: “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 House bill included the language of the IHRA definition. The Senate’s version included only a reference to the definition, not its text.

Neither included the IHRA definition’s 11 accompanying examples of antisemitism, which have proven more controversial than the definition itself. The examples include accusing Jews outside of Israel of dual loyalty, comparing Israel to Nazis, calling Israel “racist,” “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” and applying standards to Israel “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

The bill, as written, would “require state agencies to consider antisemitism when determining whether an alleged act was motivated by discriminatory intent.” Supporters maintain that the IHRA definition will aid state agencies and prosecutors, the latter as they consider invoking the state’s hate crimes law that enhances sentences for convictions of bias-related offenses.

House Bill 30 was introduced with only a reference to the IHRA definition — as desired by its Jewish backers — to prevent future legislatures from changing language that has been adopted or endorsed by 40 nations (including the United States, via an executive order from then-President Donald J. Trump), 30 U.S. states, and some 1,100 institutions worldwide.

House Bill 30 survived a “tortuous” path through the House, in the words of a co-sponsor, Jewish Democratic Rep. Esther Panitch, of District 51 in north Fulton County. Part of that was addition of the definition language when the Rules Committee chairman sent the bill back to the Judiciary Committee.

The full House passed HB 30 on March 6 — by a vote of 136 in favor and 22 against (16, for whatever reason, did not vote and six were absent).
Its chances in the Senate appeared bleak when the Judiciary Committee “tabled” HB 30 on March 20, an 8-0 vote apparently swayed by free-speech issues raised by opponents. The bill’s chief sponsor, Marietta Republican Rep. John Carson, asked the Judiciary Committee not to move the bill after members of the committee attempted to alter the IHRA language.

On the morning of March 23, however, it was resurrected in the Senate Children and Families Committee. House Bill 144 was stripped of its original language — dealing with children under the state’s care — and an amended version of HB 30 was substituted. Legislation that dies in one form and comes back in another is referred to as a “zombie” bill.

The “new” HB 144 passed the Children’s and Families Committee on a 6-2 vote and that evening the Rules Committee moved the bill on to a Senate floor vote on Monday, March 27.

Throughout consideration in the House and Senate, the bill’s supporters were adamant that the IHRA definition would not affect free speech.

“Anyone can protest and yell and criticize and demonstrate and speak and scream anything they want about Israel or Jews. This bill will not stop them unless they’re planning to commit a hate crime,” Mark Goldfeder, an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice and also counsel for Hillels of Georgia, told the Judiciary Committee. “It protects Jews here from antisemites, including those who would use Israel as an excuse to attack Jews.”

The bill’s opponents warned that the IHRA language could be “weaponized” to stifle debate over Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

“It works as a tool of censorship that falsely conflates attempts to hold the Israeli government accountable with antisemitism. Do not respond to this terrible, terrible rise in antisemitism by victimizing Palestinian advocacy,” Peyton Hayes of the University of Georgia chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, told the committee.

Efforts to add a definition of antisemitism to the code received a boost after the distribution of anti-Jewish fliers in the driveways of heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 5. Panitch, who represents a House district in northern Fulton County, found three baggies containing flyers in her driveway. Such flyers, distributed by a group called the Goyim Defense League, have appeared in DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Paulding, and Muscogee counties.

Democratic Rep. Ruwa Romman posted on Twitter March 24 that the proposed legislation “would not actually address the recent attacks on the Jewish community,” a reference to the flyers. At the time, attorneys told the AJT that the distribution of the flyers did not violate any criminal statute but might have violated local ordinances on littering.

This being the first year of the General Assembly’s two-year cycle, the bill could re-emerge when the legislature convenes next January. Similar legislation passed the House last year but never received a vote on the Senate floor.

read more: