North Carolina may join other states in codifying antisemitism definition

A bill seeking to officially define antisemitism in state law swiftly moved through the North Carolina House on Wednesday amid heated nationwide campus protests over the Israel-Hamas War.

A nearly unanimous House passed the SHALOM Act, a week after the U.S. House voted to codify the same antisemitism definition into the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But despite mostly bipartisan support, some groups in North Carolina have voiced concern that the bill could thwart criticism of Israel’s actions in the war.

After clearing the House chamber in one day, the bill awaits approval by the state Senate before going to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has not said publicly if he’ll sign it. Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said last week he was open to giving the bill a hearing.

The act adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which is outlined as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

It also includes several examples of antisemitism, such as the denial of Jewish people’s right to self-determination and applying double standards to Israel’s actions. Those examples have been the focus of concerns that the bill could hinder speech critical of Israel.

Aside from guiding education, the IHRA definition could also help law enforcement agencies and local prosecutors determine whether someone should be charged under hate crime laws already on the books, said Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, the primary bill sponsor who is running for Congress this fall. Those laws make it a crime to assault someone or deface property because of race, religion or nationality, and increase punishments for other crimes when committed based on similar types of bias.

Moore told reporters that the measure has been in the works for months since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and sparking a war that has left more than 34,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials.

But he said it’s taken on more urgency since the recent pro-Palestinian protests on North Carolina college campuses — especially at UNC-Chapel Hill — that have led to some violence and dozens of arrests. Moore said comments made by some demonstrators crossed the line and should be deemed as hateful and antisemitic.

“We have to deal with this, we have to be very clear: This will not be tolerated,” Moore said during floor debate in the House, which began its Session two weeks ago Wednesday.

The push to define antisemitism in state laws across the country predates the October attacks. Since last year, bills with definitions have been signed into law in Arkansas, Georgia and South Dakota. One was vetoed by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said he was concerned that people could be punished for criticizing Israel. Holcomb did sign a proclamation condemning antisemitism. Bills have been sent to the governors but not signed in Florida and South Carolina.

Some Jewish organizations joined Moore in expressing support for the measure before the vote.

“Jewish citizens in North Carolina deserve to feel safe and secure in visibly Jewish and public spaces,” said Greensboro Jewish Federation CEO Glenda Bernhardt. “We need a clear and agreed-upon definition of antisemitism so school administrators, law enforcement officers and public officials know how to respond appropriately.”

Bernhardt said there has been an increase in antisemitic incidents in North Carolina recently, including the bullying of Jewish students, harassment of Jewish-owned small businesses and graffiti on a Holocaust memorial in Greensboro.

Democrats in the legislature broadly supported the bill, including Rep. Caleb Rudow, who is Jewish. As someone who has experienced antisemitism himself, he said the act would keep Jewish people safe while still allowing political dissent.

Four Democrats voted against the bill, expressing concern that it could stifle protesters’ speech. They also said they were disappointed lawmakers didn’t pass more expansive hate crimes legislation.

Concerns over the SHALOM Act’s impact on protests were echoed in a news conference held by a multifaith coalition before the vote. Abby Lublin, executive director of Carolina Jews for Justice, said the bill would “do nothing to protect Jewish people.” Instead, Lublin called it a “messaging bill” that lacked the ability to take serious action against antisemitism.

“We take antisemitism seriously, not as a political stunt or as an opportunity to repress liberties,” Lublin said. “It actually needs to be approached seriously with the rigor that it deserves.”

Lela Ali, co-founder of Muslim Women For, a grassroots organization created to advocate for Muslim women in North Carolina, added that the legislation could disproportionately impact Arab and Muslim communities protesting the war in Gaza.

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.




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