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March 29, 2023 11:45 am

Georgia Antisemitism Bill in Jeopardy on Last Day of Legislative Session


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Part of an exhibit on the Holocaust supported by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association. Photo: courtesy of IHRA.

The Georgia General Assembly will on Wednesday is considering a hate crimes bill that would require state officials to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, just hours before the state’s legislative deadline ends.

The bill, HB 144, must be approved by the Senate and then voted on again by the House of Representatives before midnight. Its passage remains in jeopardy because a Georgia lawmaker proposed an amendment Wednesday morning “to strip IHRA from the bill entirely,” a source involved with the legislation, who requested to remain anonymous due to ongoing negotiations, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

As of 5pm, members of the body were still negotiating terms or HB144’s passage. Mark Goldfeder, special counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that lobbyists representing the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are working to add unfriendly amendments to it that would ultimately defeat its purpose. CAIR has opposed the IHRA definition of antisemitism, arguing that it censors criticism of Israel and undermines the First Amendment.

“Doing this would set a terrible precedent because it would take out some of the main reasons why people attack Jews, giving tremendous empowerment to antisemites to do what they want to do,” the source added. “The IHRA definition has also repeatedly been tested and upheld in court as a way for assessing discriminatory intent. We’re upset about this and hoping we have some champions in here.”

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“CAIR and its coalition partners claim that they are concerned about this bill affecting free speech, but that is a demonstrably false claim,” Goldfeder said. “The bill does not criminalize anything. It does not limit or chill criticism of Israel. The bill has nothing to do with protected free speech. And this is a fact, not a matter of opinion.”

Goldfeder added that “all it does is ensure that when analyzing the intent behind illegal discriminatory actions, when there is an allegation that the person chose their target because of anti-Jewish animus, authorities consider the world’s most well accepted definition of antisemitism.”

Passed in the Georgia House earlier this month, progress of the bill was halted after a Republican lawmaker and judiciary committee member, Sen. Ed Setzler, amended it to replace the IHRA definition of antisemitism with his own definition describing antisemitism as a “negative” perception of Jews. The IHRA definition says antisemitism is a “certain perception of Jews.”

After Setzler proposed his amendment, three Democrats voted to approve it, prompting sponsors of the bill to motion to table it. Lawmakers revived the bill earlier this week, advancing it through a different committee, the Senate Children and Families Committee, with a new name, HB144. It passed in committee a by 6-2 vote.

A similar bill stalled in the Georgia legislature in 2022, but a series of antisemitic incidents in the state, including antisemitic flyers dropped at homes in a suburb of Atlanta, prompted new interest in passing it to protect the state’s Jewish community, according to the Associated Press.

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the IHRA definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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