ACLU of Georgia

State Senate next stop for bill that aims to define antisemitism in state law

Jill Nolin | The Georgia Recorder | February 28, 2022

The Legislature’s only Jewish lawmaker, Rep. Mike Wilensky (right), co-sponsored the bill defining in state code what antisemitism is. He’s pictured here Monday with Marietta Republican Rep. John Carson. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

A bill that would define antisemitism in state code cleared the House Thursday as some lawmakers voiced concerns about potential infringement on free speech.

 

The measure, sponsored by Marietta Republican Rep. John Carson, defers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition and directs state agencies to consult the definition when applying Georgia’s anti-discrimination and hate crime laws.

The bill passed Thursday with a 141-19 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

 

Opponents include the Council on American–Islamic Relations and American Civil Liberties Union. Rep. Becky Evans, an Atlanta Democrat, said the bill could suppress legitimate criticism of the state of Israel and chill free speech and advocacy for Palestinian rights.

 

David Goldman, policy counsel for the ACLU, argued the definition is too broad.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is 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.”

 

“As a Jewish American who is frequently critical of recent Israeli administrations, I wonder whether my speech could be construed to run afoul of these restrictions or, more likely, would a non-Jewish person making the exact same criticisms as me be considered antisemitic while I am not?” Goldman said. “That is the determination we are leaving to the state of Georgia to make, and that is problematic.”

 

The Legislature’s only Jewish lawmaker, Rep. Mike Wilensky, co-sponsored the bill. The Dunwoody Democrat, who is also an attorney, said the bill would create guardrails when a prosecutor, for example, is trying to argue a defendant was motivated by antisemitism.

Wilensky said it would not apply to speech protected by the First Amendment and would not shield the Israeli government from criticism.

 

“When we talk about the United States or other countries or Israel as a country, as a government, that’s fine,” Wilensky said. “But when we say Jewish people are doing something, when we say Jewish people run something, control something, or acting like something, that’s antisemitism.”

Wilensky argued it was also necessary to clearly outline what antisemitism is. He has pointed to recent examples, such as Whoopi Goldberg’s comments on “The View” that the Holocaust “wasn’t about race” because it was “two groups of white people.”

 

There has also been a troubling string of clearly antisemitic incidents in Georgia. Several Cobb County middle school students were disciplined just last month for a video on social media showing them wearing a swastika on their sleeves and doing the Nazi victory salute.

“Hatred is born of ignorance. What we are doing today is we are helping people not be ignorant about what antisemitism is,” Wilensky said.