Dave Ress Richmond Times-Dispatch
Before he got down to ceremonially signing a bill that adds a definition of antisemitism to the Code of Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin bent close to hear the message Holocaust survivor Halina Zimm wanted to share:
“Hate is wrong, love is right,” he repeated, more loudly than her soft voice could, so all of the several dozen people at the Executive Mansion ceremony on Monday afternoon could hear.
When she was a child, Zimm’s parents were sent to what they hoped was safety in Warsaw, shortly before the Nazis arrived in her Polish hometown. She witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, hearing the weeping and cries as the Nazis dynamited buildings where Jews had hidden; she was sheltered by a couple who lived across the street from the ghetto, and managed to survive despite being denounced to police and accused of being Jewish.
“I can’t imagine what she went through,” said Youngkin, who actually signed the measure, sponsored by Del. Anne Ferrell Tata, R-Virginia Beach, in March.
The bill comes from an initiative Youngkin launched on his first day as governor – setting up the nation’s first state commission to combat antisemitism.
It was an initiative he feels strongly about. “First, I’ve had a lot of wonderful Jewish friends over the years,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch after the ceremony, in a pause between photos with the students of Rudlin Torah Academy, legislators and excited members of the Jewish community.
“Second, our nation is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And this was a promise I made during the campaign,” he said.
The bill writes into the Code of Virginia the Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which says “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.”
That definition has generated some criticism because examples of antisemitic expression the alliance uses include some criticisms of the State of Israel.
But Youngkin said he does not understand why any legislator would oppose the measure – 25 members of the House of Delegates voted against it while eight state senators did not vote.
Youngkin said the bill would make it easier for police to address hate crime and would help educate Virginians about a form of hatred that is on the rise.
“We acknowledged that we’re in a world where there is hate, in a world where hate has been translated into despicable actions, but we can stand up together and say there is no room for hate in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Youngkin said.
After signing the bill, he addressed reporters’ questions about comments that the state’s chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer, Martin Brown, made that DEI is dead. Youngkin said Brown’s comments reflect recent trends where a moment he feels is important has gone off the rails, by focusing on equal outcomes at any cost, when he said the point should be to encourage diversity and inclusion.
He also said he still believes Virginians will support his proposal to scale back the state’s current abortion law, so that it permits abortions only through 15 weeks, instead of through the second trimester and later if doctors say it is necessary. Youngkin backs exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in jeopardy.