House OKs definition of antisemitism

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May 9—CONCORD — On a bipartisan vote, the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Thursday adopted a legal definition of antisemitism over the objection of critics who charged that the policy would quell freedom of speech.

Last week, an executive with the Israeli-American Coalition for Action had lobbied for the change that could be used to charge offenders with a hate crime.

House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee chair Terry Roy, R-Deerfield, sponsored it.

The definition of antisemitism alluded to in the proposed legislation comes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016: "Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

The language is to address when anti-Israel actions "cross the line" and become illegal antisemitism, Roy said.

"Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from hate and bigotry," Roy said.

State Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, R-Winchester, said the bill does not penalize the right of anyone to express opposition to Israel or that country's military actions against Hamas in the Gaza strip.

"This amendment will not make it illegal to be able to go out and protest," Rhodes said. "What will be illegal is to commit a crime while you are doing that."

Rep. Jonah Wheeler, D-Peterborough, noted the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire opposed the change because it goes too far.

"There is not a definition for racism, sexism, islamophobia, name it," Wheeler said.

A short time later Wheeler added, "This is too broad, and it chills freedom of speech."

Rep. David Bickford, R-New Durham, said it's not proper to place in state law a definition that makes reference to one religious faith.

"This creates a form of discrimination against others who are not given the same consideration,' Bickford said.

As written, the proposal states that in enforcing New Hampshire's anti-discrimination laws authorities "shall take into consideration" whether allegedly unlawful conduct was motivated by antisemitism.

The House adopted the amendment, 189-160, with both parties split over the matter.

House Republicans opposed it, 109-70 while House Democrats favored it, 119-50.

Rep. Maria Perez, an independent from Milford, also opposed it.

Opponents tried to table the concept and failed, 186-168.

The House then voted to approve the amended bill, 201-143.

The proposal got tacked onto to an unrelated, Senate-passed bill (SB 508) dealing with the screening of inmates at county jails for mental health or substance abuse problems.

It will now go over to the Senate, which will consider whether to accept or reject the change.

klandrigan@unionleader.com