Among the measures that Georgia’s General Assembly will take up in the 2024 legislative session is a bill that will make antisemitism a hate crime. Similar legislation last year passed the House but died in the Senate. In 2023, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to define antisemitism and what kinds of criticisms of Israel are unacceptable.”
Opponents of the 2023 legislation held it up because they believed that it would limit criticism of Israel. At the time, Murtaza Khwaja of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “What this bill does is conflate antisemitism with critiques of the state of Israel.” At the same time, a handful of Republicans had reservations about the bill because they believed it could suppress free speech on college campuses.
But in 2024, there’s an added urgency to making antisemitism a hate crime. The Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel is an obvious catalyst, but long before that heinous act of terror, individuals left hateful antisemitic flyers in neighborhoods throughout suburban Atlanta. While the Peach State didn’t see widespread antisemitic activity after the Hamas attack, Emory University fired a professor for pro-Hamas rhetoric.
“The legislation would add antisemitism to the state’s existing hate crimes law that allows harsher criminal penalties against those who target victims on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability,” the AJC points out. “The measure could also apply to discrimination cases in colleges and government agencies.”
The idea of a bill that condemns attacks on Jewish people has broad bipartisan support, and legislators in both parties support making antisemitism a hate crime. But, as the AJC notes, “Democrats who denounce Hamas but sympathize with victims of the war in the Gaza Strip” don’t support the measure.
Nevertheless, the only Jewish member of the General Assembly highlights the need for a bill like the one on this year’s agenda.
“If the bill can’t pass now, I don’t know if it ever will short of having a Jewish Georgian killed and an antisemite blaming their feelings on Israel because that would not be covered under current law. Nobody wants that,” said Rep. Esther Panitch (D-51st district). “The new type of antisemitism is cloaked in an anti-Israel narrative.”
The text of the bill incorporates the definition of antisemitism that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance developed.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” reads that definition. “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.” Eleven examples of antisemitism follow that definition, and some of those include criticism of Israel. And that’s the sticking point for anti-Israel Democrats.
“The bill will not do a lot on fighting antisemitism but will do a lot to further criminalize any criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses,” said Rep. Ruwa Romman (D-97th district). “The bill sounds great — nobody can oppose the caption of the bill. What people oppose is the body of the bill.”
Some GOP leaders in the General Assembly want to create a definition that doesn’t simply copy and paste the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. That extra measure of care could make the difference between the bill passing or languishing for another year. Republicans also don’t want to craft a bill that the Georgia Supreme Court strikes down like it did the state’s 2004 hate crimes law. The death of that law forced the General Assembly to pass another in 2020 that would withstand judicial scrutiny.
“Antisemitism is a real issue in our criminal courts, in our civil courts, and in administrative settings. The scope of this is way broader than most citizens can imagine,” Sen. Ed Setzler (R-35th district) said. “As such, we need to be very thoughtful in how exactly we craft this statute.”
Panitch is considering a bill that would criminalize the distribution of flyers and other material that is intended to intimidate or attack someone based on religion or ethnicity; the state of Florida and the Atlanta suburb of Brookhaven, Ga., have similar laws on the books. Setzler is also introducing religious liberty legislation that, according to the AJC, “would limit the state government’s ability to pass and enforce laws that conflict with religious beliefs, a proposal that gay rights advocates say could be used to justify discrimination.” (And Lord knows we can’t offend the Pride Cult.)
Religious liberty bills have failed in Georgia in past years, and this second try at an antisemitism law isn’t guaranteed smooth passage. So stay tuned; the General Assembly could see some fireworks this session.