The Arizona Capitol Museum building in Phoenix. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.
Arizona legislators are trying to amend their existing state hate crime law to track crimes “that manifest evidence of prejudice based on antisemitism.” A version of the bill passed the House 52-8 in late February with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was expected that the Senate would also pass their version of this legislation. That is, until some Democrats did an about-face due to pressure from the ACLU and others.
Current Arizona law gives the judiciary the option to enhance sentencing in crimes motivated by malice due to a victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, color, disability, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. The proposed amendment, carefully designed to cover only criminal acts, adds the category of “antisemitism” when state officials investigate and track crime with potential discriminatory motivation. Additionally, under the bill, officials are required to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as an evaluative tool to decide when criminal conduct is motivated by antisemitism.
The sponsors of this legislation believe that the addition of the category “antisemitism” to existing law will result in better tracking of bias crimes, and provide more accurate data to help policy decision-making. Arizona is not alone in its efforts to use the IHRA antisemitism definition as an evaluative tool. Legislators in Iowa are arguing for the inclusion of this definition in their discrimination law as well.
The internationally-accepted IHRA working definition of antisemitism, also adopted by the US Departments of State and Justice, encompasses the age-old hatred targeting Jews, as well as modern antisemitism aimed at Israel as a proxy for Jews. It clearly distinguishes between legitimate criticisms of Israel that are protected as free speech, and expressions that cross the line into unprotected antisemitic hate speech. Among the many examples of contemporary Jew-hatred are “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” claiming that the existence of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
With legislators eager to address growing antisemitism in Arizona, the effort had large-scale support — that is, until the ACLU and the anti-Israel organizations Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and others launched a well-orchestrated and effective campaign of “intimidation by misinformation” in the Senate. They charged that the bill uses the IHRA definition as a weapon to stifle free speech. Even though the bill clearly states that “antisemitism does not include criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country,” opponents nevertheless claimed that the bill criminalizes criticism of Israel.
According to one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors, support among Democratic leaders quickly evaporated.
The vote in the Senate was postponed, and the legislature recessed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Jake Bennett, Director of State Legislative Affairs for the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, is working to promote the legislation. Interviewed by the Haym Salomon Center, Bennett expressed the opinion that the bill will pass even without full or broad Democratic support. However, he hopes that some Democrats will vote “yes” to maintain the bipartisan nature of this effort and send a united message that antisemitism has no place in Arizona.
In the age of coronavirus, when conspiracy theories on both left and right blame Jews and Israel for the worldwide pandemic, effective hate crime laws are all the more imperative. Will Democrats in the Arizona Senate validate the growing crisis of antisemitic-motivated crime by supporting this legislation, or will they fall prey to fear-mongering and propaganda?
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.