State Senate Committee Passes Antisemitism Bill

Dave Williams

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

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A state Senate committee unanimously approved a new version of legislation Monday defining antisemitism and incorporating it into Georgia’s hate crimes law following a hearing that featured emotional arguments for and against the measure.

House Bill 30 passed the Georgia House of Representatives last year but died in the Senate. It would establish as part of state law the definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization founded by Sweden’s prime minister in 1998.

The bill provides for additional penalties when crimes are committed because the victim is Jewish.

Last year’s bill ran into criticism that it was ambiguous in its application, Senate President Pro Tempore John Kennedy, R-Macon, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. Kennedy is the chief sponsor of the new version of the measure, which he said provides greater clarity.

“This substitute clearly sets out the government’s duties,” he said. “Agencies can rely on the definition to determine if antisemitism is present.”

Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the House bill’s chief sponsor, cited a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents in Georgia as reason to pass legislation defining antisemitism.

“Without a standard definition, it’s easy for antisemites to hide behind that ambiguity,” he said.

An hourlong hearing before Monday’s vote drew speakers supporting and defending the bill, including Jewish Georgians on both sides.

Several opponents argued the legislation could be used to silence critics of the war Israel launched in the Gaza Strip after the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas massacred Israeli Jews in October.

“This bill will not keep us safe,” said Marisa Pyle, an organizer for Jewish Voices for Peace Atlanta. “What it does do is silence Palestinian and Muslim Georgians.”

“Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism,” added Sig Giordano, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. “There have always been anti-Zionist Jews.”

But Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, said the overwhelming majority of Georgia’s Jewish community support the bill.

“Antisemitism is real,” he said. “Whatever we need to protect ourselves from antisemitism … is absolutely important.”

David Lubin of Dunwoody, whose daughter Rose was killed in November while fighting in the Israeli Defense Force, said the rise in antisemitic violence has forced Jews to add security barricades at Jewish facilities.

“A large percentage of Jewish Georgians are living in fear,” he said.

“This is not about politics,” added Sally Levine, executive director of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. “We just don’t want our children to get hurt.”

House Bill 30 now heads to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a vote of the full Senate.