Georgia House’s vote to condemn ‘evil’ Hamas exposes Democratic divide over Israel

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns on Monday reprimanded opponents of a resolution supporting Israel who packed the Capitol gallery and cheered each speech critical of the measure. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns on Monday reprimanded opponents of a resolution supporting Israel who packed the Capitol gallery and cheered each speech critical of the measure. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

The Georgia House adopted a resolution that condemned the deadly Hamas attack against Israel as a “disgusting display of hatred and evil” in a vote Monday that exposed a sharp Democratic divide over the growing conflict in the Middle East.

It passed 129-2 after an hourlong debate, with dozens of Democrats abstaining from the vote. Others were marked absent after several Democratic lawmakers said they wouldn’t back the measure.

The vote was engineered by Republicans to demonstrate GOP unity behind Israel — and highlight political divisions among Democrats.

The House resolution echoes a Senate measure that unanimously passed last week denouncing the Oct. 7 attack that left 1,200 Israelis dead and more than 200 taken hostage.

Like the Senate measure, it made no mention of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that worsened amid Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes and ground invasion, which Hamas said has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians.

That omission drew sharp condemnations from some House Democrats, who said the bipartisan resolution should have also referred to violence against Palestinian civilians.

Among them was state Rep. Spencer Frye, an Athens Democrat who said the resolution should “condemn the unilateral killing of innocent lives on both sides” and called for a cease-fire. He was one of about 30 of the chamber’s 78 Democrats who abstained, and nearly 20 others were excused from the vote.

Supporters stood by the language. State Rep. Esther Panitch, the only Jewish member of the Legislature, urged lawmakers to see the resolution as a focused condemnation of Hamas, “a bloodthirsty, genocidal regime openly promising to continue slaughtering innocent Jews.”

“This is the easiest moral test of our time — stand with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, or stand with all of its victims,” the Democrat from Sandy Springs said.

Democratic state Rep. Esther Panitch of Sandy Springs, the only Jewish member of the Legislature, urged members of the state House to pass a resolution Monday supporting Israel in its war with Hamas. She called Hamas “a bloodthirsty, genocidal regime openly promising to continue slaughtering innocent Jews” and said that condemning it is "the easiest moral test of our time." (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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And state Rep. Brent Cox, R-Dawsonville, said he authored the resolution to send an unequivocal signal that Georgia “stands with Israel.”

‘Here we are’

The vote underscored rift among Democrats over Israel.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in November found that two-thirds of Georgians say supporting Israel should be a U.S. national security priority, including more than 80% of Republicans.

But Democrats are torn over the U.S. alliance with the Jewish state, with 40% disagreeing with the idea that “supporting Israel is in the national interest.” The poll showed the divide is more distinct among younger and poorer voters and people of color.

While some lawmakers appeared surprised by the vote on the pro-Israel resolution last week, Democratic critics of the initiative were prepared Monday.

Opponents of the resolution packed the Capitol gallery — and were reprimanded by House Speaker Jon Burns for cheering each speech critical of the measure.

Others took aim at language in the resolution that extolled “brave Israeli soldiers who are exercising their nation’s right to self-defense by fighting back against the Hamas terrorists who seek the eradication of the Jewish people.”

Democratic state Rep. Ruwa Romman, the only Palestinian American in the General Assembly, said the resolution the state House passed Monday sends a signal to Palestinian Georgians “who have lost hundreds of family members that their loss does not matter.” (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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State Rep. Ruwa Romman, a Democrat from Duluth and the lone Palestinian American in the Legislature, said she wouldn’t vote for any measure that praised Israel’s military response.

“I cannot stand with Israel — not the Israeli people, but Israel and its government,” Romman said, noting her Palestinian grandparents were forcibly expelled from their homes decades ago.

She said the resolution sends a signal to Palestinian Georgians “who have lost hundreds of family members that their loss does not matter.”

“That’s cruel and simply not true,” said Romman, among the Democrats who didn’t cast a vote. “I will no longer engage in these games. Our constituents deserve better.”

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