The Georgia-Israel caucus met in a cramped Capitol conference room to hear from a delegation of Arab Muslims who spoke about the dangers of anti-Israel sentiment in the Middle East.
But the lunch-and-learn session Wednesday morphed into a sharp clash between lawmakers over a stalled effort to make antisemitism a hate crime in Georgia.
The exchange illustrated why the legislation faces an uncertain future despite support by powerful politicians, Jewish leaders and a broad cross-section of state lawmakers who voted in the Georgia House to approve the bill earlier this year.
It never reached a vote in the Senate, where it is opposed by state Sen. Ed Setzler and his Republican allies.
While some opponents say the measure would censor criticism of Israel, Setzler’s objection has more to do with the structure of the law and it’s use of a definition of antisemitism crafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that he views as too broad.
So heads turned when Setzler, an Acworth Republican, slipped into the caucus meeting on the second-floor of the statehouse and quietly joined the dozens of lawmakers snacking on pita bread meals as they listened to the delegation.
For much of the caucus meeting, the focus was on the delegation, which features Muslims in support of the Abraham Accords diplomatic deal between Israel and four Arab states.
As the program wound down, lawmakers peppered each of the visitors with questions about how they can help fight antisemitism. It wasn’t long before Republican state Rep. Brent Cox, a key supporter of the legislation, vented about the Senate’s refusal to bring it for a vote.
“We’ve got to move the needle. This is low-hanging fruit,” said Cox, a first-term lawmaker from Dawsonville unaccustomed to the slow-grind of the Legislature.
On a recent trip to Israel, he said, local officials frequently pressed him about the status of the measure. That mirrors the experience of Gov. Brian Kemp, who faced questions from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about why it hadn’t yet become law.
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