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The Georgia General Assembly failed for the third time in a row to pass legislation that would require state officials to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating the intent of an antisemitic hate crime.

The bill, HB144, had to be approved by the Senate and then voted on by the House of Representatives before midnight on Wednesday, when the legislative session ended.

Its passage was allegedly obstructed by lobbyists representing the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which opposes the IHRA definition, and a renegade Republican lawmaker, Sen. Ed Setlzer, who took issue with the definition and attempted to strip it from the bill.

“It was devastating to watch the Georgia Senate, for the second year in a row, ignore the cries of Georgia’s Jewish community for help amidst escalating antisemitism,” Rep. Esther Panitch (D), the only Jewish legislator in the state told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

“But if you think we are done, you are wrong,” Panitch continued. “Those who seek to harm Jews always end up relegated to history’s dustbin, but we have to prevent the damage they cause on their way there. HB144 would have made identifying them easier, although more recently they have outed themselves. The far-right tell us to go back to Israel and the far left wants to destroy Israel. Neither will prevail. We will be back.”

Mark Goldfeder, special counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and advocate of HB144, also said he is disappointed that HB144 did not pass.

“This is the second time it died without its even being called for a vote,” he said. “It is painful, and this was during a session in which there were multiple antisemitic hate crimes while it was pending. You would have thought this was a no-brainer. It just goes to show you how much we need this bill. That people can’t see what’s right in front of them and what needs to be done is a testament to why we need to define antisemitism and educate the public about what it is.”

Throughout debate on HB 144, its opponents argued that it would suppress free speech and criticism of Israel, an argument that misrepresented its purpose, Goldfeder said on Wednesday afternoon, explaining that it “does not limit or chill criticism of Israel” and “has nothing to do with free speech.”

Passed in the Georgia House earlier this month under a different name, HB30, progress of the bill was halted after Sen. Setzler amended it to replace the IHRA definition of antisemitism with his own definition describing antisemitism as a “negative” perception of Jews. The IHRA definition says antisemitism is a “certain perception of Jews.”

Lawmakers revived the bill earlier this week, advancing it through a different committee, the Senate Children and Families Committee, with a new name, HB144. It passed in committee a by 6-2 vote.

A similar bill stalled in the Georgia legislature in 2022. A series of antisemitic incidents in the state, including antisemitic flyers dropped at homes in a suburb of Atlanta, prompted new interest in making it law, according to the Associated Press. Antisemitic hate crimes in Georgia overall have increased 218 percent since 2019, according to data provided by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). There were 70 in 2022, a 75 percent change from 2021, when there were 40.

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the IHRA definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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