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NC House passes expanded antisemitism definition with bipartisan support

Abby Lublin with Carolina Jews for Justice speaks in opposition to legislation expanding the definition of antisemitism.
Colin Campbell
Abby Lublin with Carolina Jews for Justice speaks in opposition to legislation expanding the definition of antisemitism.

The state House voted 105-4 Wednesday to expand the definition of antisemitism in state law. House Speaker Tim Moore said the bill is needed to respond to a rise in hate speech and attacks on Jewish people.

If it becomes law, North Carolina would join other states in using a definition created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That definition includes several types of criticism against Israel as examples of antisemitism. The group asserts that antisemitism includes "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor" and "applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation."

"North Carolina already has hate crime statutes in place, but there really is not a working definition of what truly constitutes antisemitism," Moore said Wednesday. "This is very timely because of what we have seen across this country, and even right here in North Carolina."

While only a few House members voted against the bill, several groups held a press conference earlier Wednesday opposing the measure. Abby Lublin with Carolina Jews for Justice says the legislation, titled the "SHALOM Act," would harm free speech without protecting Jewish people.

"This is not a serious bill to address antisemitism, OK?" she said during a news conference opposing the measure that included the ACLU and other groups. "By conflating and connecting the protection of all Jewish people with limitations on criticism of the State of Israel, the bill sponsors get to exploit Jews for political gain."

But Moore says his bill clearly spells out that First Amendment speech rights are protected. "When somebody is talking about like 'death to Israel,' or someone goes and spray paints on a synagogue, 'death to Israel,' or 'Israel out of Gaza,' that crosses that line, but if someone wants to have a sign out in protest of what they believe is wrong happening in Israel, as far as the actions in Gaza, that's fine," he said.

House Speaker Tim Moore spoke at a news conference in support of the "SHALOM Act."
Colin Campbell
House Speaker Tim Moore spoke at a news conference in support of the "SHALOM Act."

The bill does not create any new criminal penalties related to antisemitism. Moore said any prosecutions would be connected to existing state laws on hate speech and "ethnic intimidation."

"A prosecutor would look at that, and look at the statutes that are already in place and make a determination if that conduct rose to that level," Moore said.

One of the people who spoke in favor of the bill at a House committee hearing was Max Pollack, a UNC-Chapel Hill student who says he's experienced antisemitism firsthand.

"Being a kippah-wearing Jew on campus at UNC, I’ve been harassed, I’ve been flipped off, I’ve been yelled at from cars, I’ve been intimidated," he told lawmakers. "According to the Equal Opportunity Compliance Office, this did not violate policy and they cannot help me."

Lublin said other legislative actions would better serve to address antisemitism. "If you're serious about combating antisemitism, you could better fund the Office of Civil Rights' capacity to investigate Title VI violations," she said, referring to federal civil rights law banning discrimination. "If you were serious about addressing antisemitism, you would move the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was introduced by North Carolina legislators last year and is a far more inclusive protection and support for all communities affected by bigotry."

Lublin said the legislation is an attempt to distract from antisemitic comments made by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for governor.

In a 2018 Facebook post before he was elected, Robinson wrote that "this foolishness about Hitler disarming MILLIONS of Jews and then marching them off to concentration camps is a bunch of hogwash." In 2017, he used quotation marks to imply skepticism of the Holocaust death toll, writing on Facebook that "there is a REASON the liberal media fills the airwaves with programs about the NAZI and the '6 million Jews' they murdered."

The IHRA definition of antisemitism includes as one example "accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust."

Asked Wednesday if Robinson's past comments would qualify as antisemitism under his bill, Moore said "I don't want to comment on comments anybody else made without knowing them, knowing the context, so I don't know the answer," he said. "My understanding is that (Robinson) supports this legislation, but I would ask him about that."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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