How Antisemitism ‘Zombie Bill’ Died
From Where I SitOpinion

How Antisemitism ‘Zombie Bill’ Died

This wasn't how the effort to define antisemitism in the state's legal code was expected to go.

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

Dave Schechter
Dave Schechter

Here is part three of how sausage — er, law — is made.

Or, rather, how it wasn’t.

My March 15 column ended with the Georgia House passing a bill to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism as the state’s legal standard.

In part two, posted online March 29, I speculated whether the Senate and then the House would vote — on the last day of the General Assembly session — to approve an amended bill and send it to Gov. Brian Kemp.

“Beats me,” was my assessment.

I also wrote: “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. In the parlance of March Madness, the game plan went awry, the opponent proved more wily than anticipated, and unforced errors did not help.”

Let’s call this part three, the hangover.

In the end, the General Assembly adjourned without a Senate vote, which meant there would be no House vote and, for the second consecutive year, no accepted definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition seems straightforward: “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 accompanying 11 examples of antisemitism have proven more problematic. Those 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.”

Opponents feared the IHRA definition being “weaponized” to stifle free speech over Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, particularly on college and university campuses. No matter how many times supporters rejected this assertion, citing the bill’s language as evidence, some Republicans and Democrats on the key committees appeared unconvinced.

The bill’s sponsors claimed the support of 90 percent of Jewish Georgians, but the vocal presence in hearings of Jewish witnesses against the IHRA definition may have surprised legislators. The opponents’ behind-the-scenes lobbying (particularly in the House) caught supporters off-guard.

The distribution of anti-Jewish flyers in heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs in early February — including in the driveway of Jewish Democratic Rep. Esther Panitch, a co-sponsor of the bill — was seen as a boon to chances of passage.

The idea was that Georgia would join the 30 states, 40 countries (including the U.S. government, per an executive order by then-President Donald Trump), and 1,100 non-governmental institutions that already adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism — “the gold standard,” members of the House and Senate were told.

The strategy was to pass a bill that included only a reference to the IHRA definition, rather than the definition language itself, to prevent any future legislature from changing its wording. But when House Bill 30 was kicked back to the Judiciary Committee by the Rules Committee chair, the IHRA language was added.

Before the House floor vote, emotions may have gotten the better of the chief sponsor, Republican Rep. John Carson, a Baptist from Marietta. One legislator publicly reversed her intention to vote in favor after Carson called opponents “a loud group of ‘quote-unquote Jews,’ that are opposing this because they support Palestine and do not support Israel and the Jewish people.” [Witnesses testifying against the bill in hearings also included several not Jewish, including a couple of members of Christian clergy.]

Still, House Bill 30 passed 136-22 and “crossed over” to the Senate, where things got weird.

The bill appeared to die when it was “tabled” unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But, to borrow from Monty Python, the parrot was not dead, just resting. The parrot — er, legislation — became what the denizens of the Gold Dome call a “zombie bill.”

The bill was resurrected in the Senate Children and Families Committee, at the expense of House Bill 144, a measure already on the committee’s agenda, dealing with children under the state’s care. HB 144 was gutted and replaced with an amended version of HB 30.

Now you had a Senate bill that referred to the IHRA definition, but also the House-passed version with the definition language. Jewish supporters wanted the Senate and then, per procedure, the House, to pass the “new” HB 144.

Instead, neither chamber voted and the clock ran out, leaving its Jewish backers to wonder how what many at the outset thought would be a slam dunk, instead, clanged off the rim.

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