May 29, 2024

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed a law defining antisemitism in state law, proclaiming support for Jewish residents despite concerns the measure would hamper people opposing the actions of Israel.

The Republican governor said by enacting the law, he was “reaffirming our commitment to a Georgia where all people can live, learn and prosper safely, because there’s no place for hate in this great state.”

Kemp likened it to when he signed a measure in 2020 that allows additional penalties to be imposed for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors. That hate crimes law was spurred by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man pursued and fatally shot while running near Brunswick, Georgia.

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The antisemitism definition measure had stalled in 2023, but was pushed with fresh urgency this year amid the Israel-Hamas war and a reported surge in antisemitic incidents in Georgia. Sponsors say adopting the 2016 definition put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance will help prosecutors and other officials identify hate crimes and illegal discrimination targeting Jewish people. That could lead to higher penalties under the 2020 hate crimes law.

The definition, which is only referred to in the bill, describes antisemitism 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.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp

Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is seen at an event hosted by radio host Erick Erickson in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 18, 2023. Gov. Kemp signed a bill defining antisemitism in state law on Jan. 31, 2024. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Kenneth Stern, the author of IHRA’s definition, told The Associated Press that using such language in law is problematic, because an increasing number of Jews have adopted an antizionist position in opposition to Israeli actions.

Lawmakers in more than a half-dozen additional U.S. states are pushing laws to define antisemitism.

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Opponents of the Georgia law warned it would be used to censor free speech rights with criticism of Israel equated to hatred of Jewish people. A coalition of organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace and CAIR, issued a joint statement saying that the Georgia bill “falsely equates critiques of Israel and Zionism with discrimination against Jewish people.”

But supporters say the definition will only come into play after someone has committed a crime. State Rep. John Carson, a Marietta Republican who was one of the bill’s sponsors, said he believed the measure would be challenged in court the first time it is used, but predicted it would be upheld.

“I’m very confident this will stand up, like it has in other states,” Carson said.

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