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April 11, 2023 4:11 pm

South Carolina Legislature Weighing Adoption of Leading Definition of Antisemitism


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

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

The South Carolina General Assembly is considering a a bill that would require state officials to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when assessing complaints of antisemitism.

The bill, H 4042, was authored and proposed by Rep. Beth Bernstein (D), the only Jewish legislator in the state, as part of her campaign for an additional law addressing all forms of hate crime. The legislation comes amid a surge of antisemitic incidents reported in South Carolina, which, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), increased 193 percent in 2022.

“We want a generally accepted definition of antisemitism to be used as a guideline a tool for determining what is antisemitic behavior or an antisemitic incident,” Bernstein told The Algemeiner on Tuesday during an interview. “It’s very important, and if we can pass hate crime legislation, it will be much more effective.”

Bernstein added that adopting the IHRA definition alone is insufficient, explaining that a clear and obvious antisemitic assault, for example, would be classified as any other, leaving state officials and other actors unaware of how frequently such incidents occur. A separate hate crimes bill — the Pinckney Hate Crimes Act — is currently being weighed in the State Senate. It is named after Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston who was one of nine African-Americans murdered in 2015 when a local white supremacist opened fire on members of the congregation who were participating in a Bible study.

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A climate of hate and racial tension driven by a surge of white supremacist activity in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union before the outbreak of the Civil War, needs to be addressed, Bernstein said.

“I’m not overly optimistic, but I am hopeful that we can pass the IHRA bill in the Senate and have hate crime legislation in South Carolina,” she continued. “Right now, we’re one of only two states whose state law do not recognize hate crimes as a punishable offense. The IHRA definition could be used when investigating hate crimes, but without the other legislation it would in a sense be limited to human resources purposes.”

Brandon Fish, Director of Community Relations at the Jewish Federations of South Carolina, spoke earlier this month in the Georgia Assembly on behalf H4042. He told The Algemeiner that he believes there is widespread bipartisan support for the measure and does not anticipate the bill suffering the same fate as similar legislation proposed in the Georgia General Assembly, which was defeated three consecutive times.

“We’re out in communities discussing antisemitism with the people of South Carolina, so there is, I think, more awareness now than ever before of antisemitism and how it affects the Jewish community,” he said. “Part of the increase is definitely attributable to white supremacist groups like the Goyim Defense League (GDL), which leaves antisemitic flyers in peoples’ driveways. Other groups, like White Lives Matter and Southern Sons Active Club, have been active here and perpetrating a lot of this behavior around our state.”

H4042 is currently in the judiciary committee in the Georgia House of Representatives. A decision on whether to bring it up for a full vote in the House is forthcoming.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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