Opinion: As Jewish Georgians, we oppose HB1274′s problematic definition of antisemitism

Georgia’s State Capitol.

Georgia’s State Capitol.

We are Jewish Georgians who know personally that antisemitism is dangerous, life-threatening, and growing, however, we oppose the passage of Georgia House Bill 1274 which attempts to provide a legal definition of antisemitism. The problem with the bill is that it uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which includes examples of criticism of Israel as antisemitic. The idea, that political criticism of a nation state is the same as hatred and violence against someone because they are Jewish, has become a powerful tool in the hands of those who work to silence Palestinian voices.

This specious application of the charge of antisemitism has already had a chilling effect on free speech and advocacy for Palestinian rights across the country. Pro-Israel activists have used it to silence people calling for the boycott of Israel, to cancel protests, speeches, and university lectures on Palestine, to prevent university students from forming a student group advocating for justice for Palestinians, and to pressure Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube to shut down webinars that feature Palestinian speakers.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism is far from being internationally accepted. In fact, scholars worldwide specializing in Holocaust, Jewish, and Middle East studies purposefully gathered to craft the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism claiming that the IHRA definition “has caused confusion and generated controversy, hence weakening the fight against antisemitism.” Many Jewish organizations and individuals, including the definition’s lead drafter Kenneth Stern, have objected to its use as a weapon to suppress free speech. Stern has written: “If you think this isn’t about suppressing political speech, contemplate a parallel. There’s no definition of anti-black racism that has the force of law … If you were to craft one, would you include opposition to affirmative action? Opposing removal of Confederate statues?”

The effects of applying the IHRA definition have been found to be problematic throughout the country. If made into Georgia law, this conflation of antisemitism and legitimate critique of Israel will not eliminate hate, bigotry and acts of violence. It will only serve to blur the meaning of real antisemitism and to discredit the struggle against it.

Jewish people are already protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We need our lawmakers to uphold these existing laws to protect Jewish people and other targeted groups. We don’t need a law that violates our First Amendment right to free speech.

We, the undersigned Jewish Georgians, reject this IHRA definition of antisemitism and ask the Georgia Legislature to say “No” to HB 1274.

Randy Aronov

Ari Bee

Steven Bell, Ph.D.

Rebecca Brunetti

ilise Cohen, Ph.D.

Stephanie Davis

Vance Dietz

Cheryl Dudley

Devon Fairorth

Shannon Fairorth

Gary Flack

L. Harris

Jenny Hoffner

Adam Horowitz

Rachel Kahn

Miriam Karp

Gus Kaufman, Ph.D.

Leo Laing

Tori Langemoore

Jan Levie

Paul Marquardt

Mickele McCleary

Tovah Melaver

Free Solomon Goldmark Polazzo

Daniel Rice

Rina Rosenberg

David Schlifka

Alta Schwartz

Anna Sosnoff

Connie Sosnoff

Richard Stone

Jill Wenner

Bill Witherspoon

Dr. Naomi Woodspring