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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ga. Dems Freak Out as State Legislature Passes Bill Defining Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes

'If we’re going to define anti-Semitism in the law, then there a lot of other groups that experience racism, and they should also have definitions and explanations of what racism looks like...'

(Headline USA) The phrase “hate crime” has long been anathema to the ears of Georgia Democrats, ever since the days when the party used the Ku Klux Klan as a highly effective form of voter intimidation against blacks, Jews and other minority groups. 

In recent years, however, the Left had come to weaponize the term against Georgia history itself, arguing that symbols like the Confederate flag (which once adorned the state flag) and a Savannah park honoring pro-slavery Vice President John C. Calhoun were offensive forms of speech that needed to be excised.

Now, with a wave of anti-Semitic sentiment suddenly surging from within its deepest recesses to the forefront of the Democratic agenda, the party is dusting off its old KKK rhetoric to justify its opposition to a bill advanced by the Republican legislature seeking to limit pro-Hamas demonstrations that have once again terrorized Jewish residents.

In at least eight states nationwide, lawmakers are working on measures to define anti-Semitism, part of an upsurge of legislation motivated in part by the Israel–Hamas war.

Arkansas passed such a law last year. A South Carolina measure passed one chamber in 2023. New bills are pending this year in Indiana, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and South Dakota.

And on Thursday, the Georgia Senate approved HB30, putting the measure on track for final passage, with Republicans uniting in support of Israel’s war on Hamas and some Democrats splitting over fears of suppressing support for Palestinians.

“Today we can fight a pervasive and escalating threat in our state and fight it together,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, a Macon Republican who guided the bill to Senate passage by a 44-6 vote. The measure had stalled in a Senate committee in 2023.

A House vote to agree with changes to the bill could come later Thursday, sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, for his signature or veto.

Sponsors say adopting the definition put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance would help prosecutors and other officials identify hate crimes and illegal discrimination targeting Jewish people. Georgia has a hate crimes law that allows higher criminal penalties for crimes motivated by some types of bias.

The definition, which is only referred to in the bill, describes anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. 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.”

However, some Democrat lawmakers opposed the bill, saying they thought it would be used to censor free-speech rights.

“The First Amendment guarantees our rights as citizens to criticize any government, foreign and domestic,” said Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Lawrenceville Democrat. “Does our Constitution not mean anything? Do our federal laws not mean anything?

Supporters countered that the definition would only come into play after someone had committed a crime.

“This legislation is not about stifling free speech,” Kennedy said. “Nor is it about the government stopping someone from simply sharing their views. It is about safeguarding the dignity and the safety of our Jewish friends and neighbors.”

Some protesters chanting “Free Free Palestine!” were dragged by police officers from the committee room after the vote and one was arrested.

That came after some Jewish residents of Georgia testified they had experienced a surge of bias incidents, including an anti-Semitic group that hung a Jew in effigy outside a Macon synagogue over the summer.

The bill’s opponents said it felt like choosing sides in the Israel–Hamas war.

“We can mourn the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives,” said Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat. “We can both condemn the unacceptable acts of anti-Semitism that are plaguing the Jewish community around our state, and acknowledge that our citizens have the right to voice their dissent about the tremendous harm being visited upon Palestinian civilians.”

Some Democrats said that if Georgia moves to define anti-Semitism, then it should also define what prejudice against Muslims, African Americans or LGBT people looks like.

“If we’re going to define anti-Semitism in the law, then there a lot of other groups that experience racism, and they should also have definitions and explanations of what racism looks like,” said Sen. Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat who didn’t vote on the bill.

But such false equivalencies have long been a diversionary tactic deployed by Democrats to conflate the issues of hate crimes and free speech.

Other Democrats said they wanted to support their Jewish constituents and allies, with some recalling the historic support of Jewish people for black civil rights. An Atlanta synagogue was bombed in 1958 by racists striking out against a rabbi’s opposition to segregation.

“The Jewish community stood hand-in-hand with us,” said Senate Minority Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat. “Today I return their favor and stand with them.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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