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Georgia’s Jewish legislator promises to keep fighting after antisemitism bill fails to come up for a vote

The bill, which would codify an official definition of antisemitism, could be before the Senate again in January

A much-discussed bill that would codify a definition of antisemitism into Georgia state law was not passed before the state assembly’s term ended, but the state’s lone Jewish legislator said she hasn’t given up hope.

In early March, the bill, which would see Georgia adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, was overwhelmingly approved by the state House of Representatives. At the time, Democrat Esther Panitch, a Jewish woman and one of the bill’s sponsors, said she had no reason to believe the bill wouldn’t pass through the Senate.

But the Senate had not voted on the bill by the end of Wednesday, which marked the end of the assembly’s term.

“For the second year in a row, the Senate has ignored the cries of the Jewish community who are under attack,” Panitch told the Forward on Thursday. “And there’s no reason why. The lieutenant governor said it was an issue of public importance when he revised the bill and then failed to call it up even though it was 100% within his control.”

Over the past few weeks, the bill had been the subject of legislative jockeying as the Senate’s judiciary committee voted to amend its definition of antisemitism. At the time, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones worked to get the original wording of the bill in front of the Senate, with one senator saying Jones saw the bill as “an issue of public importance.”

Panitch said it was unclear why the bill was never called for a vote, saying she had received no direct communication from Jones on the matter. She said that her colleagues in the House were ready to take the bill back for another vote, a parliamentary procedure made necessary by an amendment made in the Senate.

A call to Jones’ office for comment was not immediately returned. 

Panitch stressed that the bill, which received bipartisan support within the House, had enough votes lined up in the Senate to pass.

The bill had been criticized for its use of the IHRA definition, which some allege can be used to crack down on free speech. But its proponents have pointed to language within the bill that assures respect for everyone’s First Amendment rights.

The bill will not be up for consideration again until the next legislative session begins in January. Because that falls within the current two-year legislative cycle, it would not have to go through the House again before being considered by the Senate. Panitch said she plans to spend the time in the interim strategizing with colleagues and informing her political colleagues of the concerns of Georgia’s Jews.

“My hope is that nothing worse happens to the Jewish community in the interim, because right now we don’t have the same protections as other minorities,” said Panitch, who, along with hundreds of other Jewish households, was the recipient of antisemitic flyers in February. 

The bill’s original vote occurred on the eve of Purim, while the current session ended a week before Passover. Panitch said the timing hadn’t occurred to her — “I’m dreading that it’s Pesach in a week and I haven’t done any shopping yet” — but said that it, too, harkens to familiar themes.

“Once again, Jews are fighting to be recognized as equals in terms of protection, and we’re going to keep fighting. Anyone who’s tried to harm Jews has always ended up relegated to the dustbin of history, and we’ll be back and we will prevail.”

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