Kemp signs antisemitism bill, saying ‘there is no place for hate’ in Georgia

Elected leaders made passage of measure a priority after Israel-Hamas war began
State Reps. John Carson, second right, and Esther Panitch are recognized by Gov. Brian Kemp for their work on House Bill 30, a measure that adds antisemitism to the state's hate crimes statute. Kemp signed the measure into law during a ceremony Wednesday at the Georgia Capitol. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Reps. John Carson, second right, and Esther Panitch are recognized by Gov. Brian Kemp for their work on House Bill 30, a measure that adds antisemitism to the state's hate crimes statute. Kemp signed the measure into law during a ceremony Wednesday at the Georgia Capitol. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed protections against antisemitism into law Wednesday, declaring “there is no place for hate in this great state” for Jewish people suffering from bigotry.

Surrounded by a packed, bipartisan crowd in the Georgia Capitol, Kemp enacted the bill that defines antisemitism as part of the state’s hate crimes and discrimination laws.

“Acts of hatred have taken on many forms, including harassment, intimidation and unfortunately, violence. Georgia has not been immune to that horrible reality,” said Kemp, a Republican. “In Georgia, we stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The antisemitism bill stalled last year but became a priority for Georgia’s elected leaders after the Israel-Hamas war began Oct. 7, with supporters citing an increase in hate speech against Jewish people.

Antisemitic incidents were already on the rise before the war, when hate groups repeatedly distributed fliers smearing Jewish people in several neighborhoods and a group hung a Jew in effigy last summer outside a Macon synagogue.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Jenny Sividia, whose brother was killed in Israel on Oct. 7, said Georgia’s antisemitism measure is an important show of support for the Jewish people.

“Signing this bill is giving us power to believe again that we are not alone,” said Sividia, who is visiting the United States to tell the story of the attack. “This bill represents a step forward in combating antisemitism.”

The legislation, House Bill 30, was contentious because it uses a definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that includes examples of when speech against Israel amounts to attacks against Jewish people, such as claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Opponents of the law say it could curtail criticism of Israel by law-abiding citizens who fear their speech could be considered antisemitic.

“Antisemitism is a real problem. We just don’t agree that the conflation of criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism protects Jewish people any better,” said Azka Mahmood, executive director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Georgia, an advocacy organization for American Muslims. “It does chill speech, and we believe that it targets pro-Palestine advocacy specifically.”

Under the new law, antisemitism is covered by Georgia’s hate crimes statute, which allows harsher criminal penalties against people who target victims because they’re Jewish. The hate crimes law already covers crimes based on religion and race but didn’t specify antisemitism, a broader category of bias against Jewish people.

Antisemitic speech would continue to be protected by the First Amendment. But a judge could impose additional penalties under the state’s hate crimes act if an underlying crime, such as assault, is found to be motivated by antisemitism.

Hate crimes come with an additional six to 12 months of incarceration for misdemeanors and at least two years for felonies.

“Adoption of this bill sends a strong statement in the face of antisemitism and those who seek to sow hatred,” said Anat Sultan-Dadon, consul general for Israel in the southeastern United States. “We are incredibly grateful to the state of Georgia for taking a strong stand against antisemitism.”

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Jewish people who mustered support for the bill said it’s a necessary step to show that crimes motivated by antisemitic hate come with consequences.

“Jews are feeling unsafe and insecure,” said Melanie Nelkin, a lay leader for the American Jewish Committee Atlanta. “Hopefully, there will be accountability for people who intend to use hate speech, especially focused on antisemitism, as a vehicle for violence.”

Georgia lacked a hate crimes law until 2020, when the General Assembly passed a bill that allows greater penalties against those convicted of certain crimes, such as assault, if they targeted victims on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability. The measure could also apply to discrimination cases in colleges and government agencies.

The Georgia Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s original hate crimes law in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague” before legislators passed a new version.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Carson, said it will make a difference by ensuring that antisemitism is fully covered by laws prohibiting hate crimes and discrimination in housing, lending and employment.

“Now we have a very clear reference to a definition that’s easily accessible so that Georgia prosecutors and judges and the entire judicial system can use it to help identify this behavior and crack down on it,” said Carson, a Republican from Marietta.


The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism

Part of the debate over legislation that would make antisemitism part of Georgia’s hate crimes law is its reliance on a definition provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The definition itself is two sentences, but it’s accompanied by 11 examples of antisemitism, six of which mention Israel. Here’s the definition:

“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.”

Source: https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/