Georgia’s battle to define antisemitism

State Reps. Esther Panitch and John Carson, pleased Georgia’s House passed HB30 (

Arkansas’s legislature unanimously agreed upon a definition of antisemitism this year. Indiana is on its way . But in Georgia, misunderstandings about the proposed definition and the Jewish community have complicated defining antisemitism in state law.

The bill itself is straightforward. In just over two pages, Georgia’s HB30 adopts the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Investigators and prosecutors could use this definition to determine intent after finding evidence of a crime or unlawful discrimination targeting Jewish people. For example, this definition could inform hate crime deliberations after a Nazi admirer enters a synagogue filled with Jews and shoots, as recently happened.

In fiery floor remarks before the Georgia House of Representatives vote, state Rep. Esther Panitch, HB30’s lead Democratic sponsor and Georgia’s lone Jewish state legislator, explained why this bill is necessary. Among her reasons: Nearly half of Americans can’t defineantisemitism. Additionally, “It is in the interest of ‘justice for all’ to provide clarity on the bright lines of what is, and is not, racism against Jews.”

Joshua Heller, senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Torah, hopes that“this bill provides a little more clarity” and“narrows that window of what people can do and get away with,” possibly creating a deterrent.

Meanwhile, opponents are rankled by the IHRA’s recognizing anti-Zionist antisemitism in addition to “classic” antisemitism. They say HB30 will chill (anti-Israel) speech.

“This legal effort is aimed exclusively at conduct,” explained Joe Sabag, executive director of Israeli-American Coalition for Action. “It’s not aimed at speech, and, in fact, [this effort] is careful to avoid [speech].”

IHRA specifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” HB30 further explicitly states that First Amendment freedoms remain protected.

Dr. Mark Goldfeder, director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, remarked, “Unless you’re planning to commit a hate crime, this bill shouldn’t bother you.”

Speaking to the House, Panitch declared, “Our state should not, and could not, pass a law prohibiting criticism of Israel. But in the last decade, it has become all the more common for hatred of Israel to spill over into hateful language, discrimination, or violence against Jews, and that’s what the opponents of HB30 want cover to be able to do.”

In an interview, Panitch characterized the most visible opponents as a few “far-left Jews” who “managed to convince [some Democratic lawmakers] that a large group of Jews were not in favor of this bill.” However, at least four Jewish organizations legislators were told oppose HB30 do not: An Anti-Defamation League representative testified for the bill. The World Jewish Congress emailed its constituents, encouraging Georgians to ask legislators to support HB30. And while the Union for Reform Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, the conservative movement’s rabbinical body, have taken no position on HB30, Reform and Conservative Rabbis in Georgia support the bill.

Responding to the charge“that the Jewish community doesn’t have a consensus,” Goldfeder observed that, actually, “there’s a mandate” for Georgia to adopt the IHRA definition. HB30 is championed by Jewish communal organizations representing 90% of Georgia’s 175,000 Jews.

As for why state Rep. John Carson, HB30’s lead Republican sponsor, is so motivated to stand with that supermajority, he commented, “It is the right and moral thing to do. When I see a community being targeted and a clear and simple way to help them that doesn’t affect anyone else (except antisemites), that’s where the inquiry stops for me.”

The Georgia House overwhelmingly agreed HB30 is worthwhile, voting 136-22 to pass it. Now up is the Georgia state Senate, in which a March 29 deadline looms.

It’s time to define antisemitism officially, senators. Make HB30 Georgia law.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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