A bill that would add anti-Semitism to the list of crimes reported by the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) and adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism is currently making its way through the Arizona House and Senate.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann introduced Senate Bill 1143 and Rep. Alma Hernandez introduced House Bill 2683 in January. The identical bills would require DPS to collect information on crimes that are motivated by anti-Semitism, in addition to current requirements to report on crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability.

“It is difficult if not impossible to ensure that data being collected on anti-Semitism is valid in the absence of an objective, standardized definition,” said Jake Bennett, director of state legislative affairs for the Israeli-American Coalition for Action. “Senate President Fann and Rep. Alma Hernandez have very good relationships with the Jewish community. They were very concerned about the rising tide of anti-Semitism and decided to proactively take up the issue.” 

The bill provides an important framework for understanding and tracking hate crimes, said Paul Rockower, executive director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix.

“It’s meant to be a way of helping people in law enforcement to understand what anti-Semitism entails and how you can frame that in the context of hate crimes,” Rockower said. “In part, that’s important because the Jewish community predates the notions of race and tribe and religion, so we don’t fit squarely into the modern box of religion versus race versus nation versus peoplehood.”

The bills define anti-Semitism using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition, which states: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

That definition, as well as examples of anti-Semitism provided by the IHRA, could change how defendants are charged and how hate crimes are processed.

“The first step toward solving a problem is to properly define it,” Bennett said. “The definition Arizona’s bill uses is the consensus international standard because it can be utilized to objectively assess all ideological forms of anti-Semitism.”

The IHRA definition has been adopted by 17 countries and used by the U.S. State Department since 2016. Nevertheless, it is not without controversy. The definition also includes examples of anti-Semitism that ACLU of Arizona Policy Director Darrell Hill argues are too broad.

“The ACLU shares the concern of the bill sponsors about the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States, and we are now fully supportive of accurately tracking assessing hate crimes in America and in Arizona, specifically hate crimes directed at persons of Jewish faith and heritage,” Hill said. “Our concern with the bill is that the language that defines anti-Semitism includes reference to language that is not directed at any particular person or group, but is directed at Israel the country, and that we feel is within the scope of language protected by the First Amendment.”

Hill cited examples in the definition such as “applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” or “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

“These are inflammatory statements that people may make from time to time, but we don’t believe that they are necessarily evidence of anti-Semitism, and they are definitely protected by the First Amendment,” Hill said. “Including those statements as evidence of anti-Semitism in Arizona law really endangers the First Amendment rights of persons who have disagreements with Israeli policy or who may make statements critical of Israel, but who have no animus towards the Jewish people.”

The IHRA definition also includes several undisputed examples of anti-Semitism, such as calls to harm Jews, dehumanizing claims about Jews or a Jewish world conspiracy and Holocaust denial.

Bennett argues that adopting the IHRA definition does not criminalize speech.

“It’s important for the legislators and the public to recognize that this bill has no impact upon free speech,” Bennett said. “All the legislation would do is implement an objective definitional tool for authorities to use so that they can properly enforce the state’s existing laws against crime and discrimination where they determine the presence of anti-Semitic intent.”

Bennet expects the bill to pass with bipartisan support.

“This bill has record levels of bipartisanship and community support behind it,” Bennet said. “Eighty-four out of 90 legislators signed on as co-sponsors because they recognize the unique crisis of anti-Semitic crime and discrimination taking place.”

SB1143 passed the Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety on Jan. 29 and HB2683 passed the House Committee on Judiciary on Feb. 12. Each bill must be approved by their respective Committee on Rules before a full Senate vote can be held.

Ultimately, Rockower says, the bills provide the Jewish community with a sense of security.

“It’s nice to see that the state of Arizona is taking the Jewish community’s concerns seriously and trying to figure out the best mechanism that it can use to help allay the Jewish community’s concerns,” he said. “It’s ultimately about helping the Jewish community feel more comfortable so that when incidents do occur, law enforcement has a way of tracking, collating and keeping tabs on anti-Semitic attacks.” JN