Sausage — er, Law — making, Part Two
How the Jewish community's top legislative priority became a "zombie" bill.
Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Welcome to part two of how sausage — er, law — is made.
Part one (my last column) ended with the Georgia House approving legislation that would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism as the state’s standard.
How will part two end? As I write this, on Tuesday, March 28, I don’t know.
By the end of Wednesday, March 29, the last — and most chaotic — day of the General Assembly session, we’ll know.
For this legislation to reach the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, the Senate and then the House must pass the bill — before the gavel comes down and “sine die” (Latin for “let’s get out of here”) is declared.
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.
The IHRA definition itself 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 11 examples of antisemitism that come with it 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.”
Throughout its legislative journey, the bill’s opponents raised fears of 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 the bill’s supporters rebutted those claims — citing the bill’s language as evidence that there would be no free speech ramifications — some Republicans and Democrats on the key committees appeared unconvinced.
The vocal presence in hearings of Jews opposed to the IHRA definition may have surprised legislators who presumed a monolithic Jewish stance on the issue. The opponents’ behind-the-scenes lobbying (particularly in the House) caught supporters off-guard.
The distribution of antisemitic flyers in heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs in early February — including in Panitch’s driveway — was seen as a boon to chances of passage.
When the process started, the bill’s Jewish backers wanted Georgia to 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 repeatedly were told.
The Jewish backers of House Bill 30 had wanted only a reference to the IHRA definition, to prevent any future legislature from changing its wording.
But when the bill was kicked back to the Judiciary Committee by the Rules Committee chair, the IHRA language was added. The 136 to 22 margin by which HB 30 passed the House belied what a co-sponsor, Jewish Democratic Rep. Esther Panitch, called its “tortuous” path.
[Definition of an unforced error: The bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. John Carson, a Baptist from Marietta, publicly calling 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.”]
HB 30 “crossed over” to the Senate — where things really 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. The original language of HB 144 was replaced with an amended version of HB 30.
Now you had a Senate bill that only referred to the IHRA definition, but also the House-passed version with the definition language.
So, on the last day of the 40-day legislative session, would the Senate approve its version and would the House accept that?
Beats me. This may be a “zombie column” that comes back to life with an update.
- From Where I Sit
- Dave Schechter
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
- zombie bill
- General Assembly
- Gov. Brian Kemp
- March Madness
- House Bill 30
- Rep. John Carson
- Rep. Esther Panitch
- Monty Python
- Senate Judiciary Committee
- Senate Children and Families Committee
- HB 144.