Arizona House Bill 2683 was on track to be a powerful bipartisan statement that antisemitism is not welcome in the Grand Canyon State. That is, until last week.
Before then, all seemed ready for my state to put antisemites on notice that any crimes committed would be considered hate crimes. The original bill in the Arizona House of Representatives had 56 out of 60 members join as cosponsors. The Senate version, SB1143, had 27 out of 30 senators as cosponsors with near universal approval. This support was unprecedented in the legislative history of America’s 48th state and came none too soon.
Antisemitism in Arizona
The scourge of Jew hatred has been assaulting Arizona’s communities again and again and again and again. The record is dizzying. Antisemitic incidents in the state rose in 2016, 2017, 2018, and possibly again in 2019.
A Flagstaff Synagogue was attacked, smeared with swastikas, and significantly damaged as it finished construction.
A woman’s car was vandalized with the word “kike”, apparently because it had an Israeli flag in the window.
Jewish and minority journalists including the Editor in Chief of Arizona Jewish Life Magazine were harassed by neo-Nazis who were later arrested in a nationwide operation.
A public dialog with wounded IDF soldiers at Arizona State University was loudly disrupted using a “hecklers veto”. Students were intimidated into moving to a private space under police protection, spurring condemnation from the campus administration.
Enough is Enough
This and more had gone on long enough. Jewish Democratic Representative Alma Hernandez and Republican Senate President Karen Fann joined together with almost all their colleagues to put forth a strong yet carefully calibrated message.
That message was to have Arizona specifically include antisemitism on the list of various bias motivations tracked by law enforcement.
Current state law on hate crimes left confusing loopholes caused by the multi-layered idea of “Jewishness” (religion, nation, people, tribe, etc.) that doesn’t always fall neatly into crimes targeting a person’s “religion” alone. This bill would close such loopholes by making antisemitism an independent category, preventing all confusion on where antisemitic motivations for crimes should “fit”. Just as important, by tracking antisemitism as a separate category, this growing scourge would be better understood for future policy decisions.
The legislation also provides further clarity by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Critically, the bill uses the IHRA definition in such a way that it cannot be applied to someone simply exercising their free speech rights, even when such speech is hateful.
Finally, the legislation would allow the IRHA definition to be used in court to help show when the worst crimes, felonies, deserve heightened sentencing as “criminal offenses that manifest evidence of prejudice” [A.R.S. 47-1101(A)(3) & A.R.S. 13-701(D)(15)].
At long last, Arizona would have a clear working definition that clarifies contemporary antisemitism in all its manifestations.
Democratic Senators Fold Under Radical Pressure
The cracks began to appear on February 27th when the HB2683 passed by a vote of 52-8, odd since there were 56 House cosponsors. Still, this resounding success was heartening and showed that the radical forces in opposition had minimal sway.
Then came last week’s misinformation campaign by ACLU Arizona. The group partnered with some progressive organizations and anti-Israel radicals to pen a misleading letter of opposition to Arizona state senators. What then followed was a well-orchestrated campaign of emails, letters, and calls. Under the deluge, democratic senators began to back off. By the time of the scheduled vote last Friday, the action on the bill had to be postponed for lack of a single Democrat willing to be “first” in supporting the measure and angering the mob.
After weeks of unsuccessful opposition, the local ACLU branch along with its coalition of radical groups from JVP and SJP to antisemites like Marc Lamont Hill and Amer Zahr hit upon their winning strategy. Convince the public that the bill harms free speech (it doesn’t). Then, mobilize activist networks to either convince Arizona Senate Democrats of the same or cow them into opposing what they know is right. It worked.
The bill’s authors and local supporters responded quickly. On March 11th, President Fann and Representative Hernandez, the bill sponsors, sent a powerful joint letter to their colleagues. The full letter was published in a supportive editorial on March 13th by Arizona Jewish Life, the same community magazine targeted by antisemitic threats earlier this year.
The joint letter is worth reading in full for a detailed rebuttal of the Arizona ACLU’s misleading arguments. For those short on time, it can be boiled down to just one quote rebutting the main free speech argument that criticizing the Israel would become a hate crime: “This is patently false on multiple levels and is incendiary.”
The rest of the Arizona community is also stepping up through a campaign led by the Israeli-American Coalition for Action. The group is redoubling their prior request for community members to contact democratic state senators asking them to vote ‘yes’ on SB1143. That contact should be done both through direct phone calls and through emails that can be easily sent through IAC’s website.
IAC for Action Legislative Affairs Director Jake Bennett wants to make sure that we “let senators know that antisemitism has no place in Arizona and demand they vote ‘yes’ on SB 1143.”
I have personally called and emailed every Arizona democratic state senator to let them know that this bill must pass to fight Antisemitism in Arizona. Each of them must be brave in the face of political pressure from radicals and do what is right. I hope you share this post and urge your Arizona friends to do the same.