Hearing Fiasco Proves Need for Antisemitism Definition
Hadassah Greater Atlanta member Simone Wilker expresses her thoughts on the proposed Georgia legislation to define antisemitism.
The Anti-Defamation League just published a report showing that in 2022 the number of antisemitic incidents reported reached an all-time high of nearly 3,700. In Georgia alone, there were 80 separate recorded incidents. Right now, there is a glaring loophole in 2020’s hate crimes legislation (HB426) that makes it near impossible to address antisemitic hate crimes in Georgia. Why? Because we cannot begin to address and combat antisemitism without a uniform definition of what it is.
We must pass HB144 to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism now – to protect our children, grandchildren, and loved ones from burgeoning antisemitism threatening our community’s safety.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism, developed through community and expert input, is widely recognized as an essential tool in naming and fighting Jew hatred. It has been adopted by more than 1,000 global entities, including the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance and the United States Department of State, 40 countries and 30 U.S. states.
Georgia’s Senate has an opportunity right now to pass this critical bill that clarifies antisemitism for everyone in the state. Further, with a clear definition in place, violent crimes like assault and murder targeting Jews because of their faith will be named for what they are – hate crimes.
At a recent legislative hearing considering this bill, a young man told a shocking story of his experience of harassment at school with swastikas and hate symbols against Jewish people. His school did nothing to stand up to hate. Administrators claimed the swastika was a peace symbol and did not classify these acts as religious discrimination or hate, and they did not take action. If we adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism – it will be clear moving forward that tormenting Jewish students with swastikas is a plain and hateful act of antisemitism.
Yet, last week, the Senate stalled action as one lawmaker proposed to rewrite the definition of antisemitism – watering down the internationally accepted definition to render it incomplete and ineffective. Personally, it was devastating to watch someone attempt to define away acts of hatred that can have dangerous, deadly impact on Jewish people.
The fact that this hearing could go off track so quickly and the presumption that one individual could re-define what antisemitism is without consulting the presenting sponsors of the bill only underscore why we urgently need a clear and accepted definition of antisemitism in place.
With so many other government bodies, organizations and groups adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, it’s critical that Georgia does the same. Our state cannot be the only outlier that leaves the Jewish community vulnerable to antisemitism, and we cannot bend the definition of antisemitism to make people more comfortable being antisemitic.
And let’s be clear – adopting the IHRA definition, while it will make prosecuting hate crimes against the Jewish community easier, ultimately does not mean that anything considered antisemitic is in and of itself a hate crime. Hate crimes relate to specific acts targeting groups of people – and we cannot confuse the two.
The definition simply provides parameters and useful examples to help identify hate against Jewish people, including modern iterations of antisemitism that are frequently masked as denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination.
Thankfully, a bill adopting IHRA definition of antisemitism in Georgia is now moving forward in the Senate as HB 144. As antisemitism rises not only in Georgia but nationwide, our legislators – many of whom claim to be allies and have large Jewish constituencies – must stand with our community. We can’t let another year pass without this simple act to safeguard Georgia’s Jewish population of over 140,000.
Adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism without further delay and without misguided attempts to change the definition of antisemitism is urgent for our safety and our wellbeing.
Simone Wilker is a Hadassah Greater Atlanta member.