Virginia’s Senate has passed a bill to adopt a definition of antisemitism

Virginia’s Senate has passed a bill to adopt a definition of antisemitism.

House Bill 1606 by Del. Anne Ferrell Tata, R-Virginia Beach, would allow Virginia to adopt the “non-legally binding” Working Definition of Antisemitism that is already adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The bill is meant to be a “tool and guide for training, education, recognizing and combating antisemitic hate crimes or discrimination and for tracking and reporting antisemitic incidents in the Commonwealth.”

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Tata was not available for an interview by the time of this publication, but during the Senate floor session on Thursday, Sen. Siobahn Dunnavant, R-Henrico, spoke in favor of the legislation.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented increase in antisemitic hate crimes and aggression, even in our own state,” Dunnavant said.

Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, who voted against the measure when it passed the House on Feb. 7, thinks the legislation will not have the effect people may think it could have. Though defining an issue is a first step toward solutions, he thinks the bill is a symbol more than an action.

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“The bill is a symbol. And it’s a symbol to say, ‘I’ve done something when I haven’t,’ ” Helmer said. “It’s a symbol to cut the conversation off, rather than to get the conversation started.”

Helmer said he was subject to an antisemitic campaign flier in 2021 that was funded by the Republican Party of Virginia — a reason he is skeptical about the GOP efforts to address discrimination and hate crimes now. (The flier purported to show Helmer looking at stacks of gold coins.)

He said he would like to see increased awareness of antisemitism and threats or harassment to Jewish communities.

“Are these delegates going back and engaging with their Jewish communities? If any legislator in Virginia wants to, I will go and I will meet with them in Jewish communities,” Helmer said. “And I’m happy to have those conversations in a really meaningful way.”

He added that Jewish members of the legislature should have been consulted when crafting bills relating to the matter. Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who was Virginia’s first Jewish speaker of the House, was eventually consulted on the bill and she supported it.

“We cannot root out or eliminate antisemitism until we can define it,” she said in a recent floor speech.

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Last year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin established the Commission to Combat Antisemitism, which released a report in December. The commission recommended 21 initiatives, such as refining state hate crime definitions, calling for new curriculums in schools and recognition of Jewish religious holidays, barring state schools from joining campaigns boycotting nations like those barring financial connections with Israel and calling for training on hate crimes.