An amended version of House Bill 942, The SHALOM Act, received a favorable report during a Senate State and Local Government Committee meeting Wednesday morning.

HB 942, which passed in the House on May 8, amends chapter 12 of the North Carolina General Statues, defining antisemitism as consistent with the working definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016.

Section 2 of the bill, which would have appropriated $10,000 from the General Fund to the Department of Administration for the 2024-25 fiscal year, was removed.

Sen. Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck, first introduced legislation in April 2023 due to a rise in antisemitism that had occurred throughout the state and the country, well before the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

“Little did I or anyone in this room or anyone in the country realize how important this bill would become on October 7 of 2023,” he said during the meeting.  “I firmly believe that it’s the responsibility of this body and all elected officials to protect all of our citizens from hate and bigotry. The Shalom bill does exactly that. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it in no way infringes on or diminishes anything to do with your rights protected by the North Carolina or the US Constitution.”

Hanig would later add that a trip that he took in 2019 with Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to Israel changed him forever.

“To truly understand what the Jewish people have been through and what they continue to go through on a daily basis, that’s why I felt the need to introduce this bill to begin with,” he said. “This in no way infringes on any rights. It isn’t against the law to express your opinion about Jewish people or anybody else that’s your your First Amendment right.”

Moore, who introduced HB 942, told the committee that everyone has seen the violence, intimidation, and threats that are happening against Jewish individuals in the state and the country, some of which have become very violent.

“As of today, over 1,100 separate governments, NGOs, and key institutions have specifically adopted the IHRA definition,” Moore said. “This is a common-sense way to address this. This has been dealt with in a bipartisan way around the nation, and it’s where we have an opportunity to take a stand to make sure that we will not tolerate discrimination and antisemitism threats of violence.”

He said it also balances the First Amendment right to free expression.

Sen. Lisa Grafstein, D-Wake, said she supports the bill because not only is it an important issue to bring up, but it’s also important to reflect on the diversity of the Jewish community.

She said she has heard from hundreds of Jews and non-Jews not only in Wake County but from around the state. There are Jews, she said, who are strongly in favor of this bill because they strongly resonate with the state of Israel and feel very personally attached. At the same time, she has also heard from a lot of Jews and non-Jews who have concerns about the bill from the First Amendment point of view.

The definition, Grafstein said, doesn’t criminalize speech.

“I think it’s important that we do recognize, though, that this bill being brought forth in the context of protest raised has understandable concerns from folks that it was being brought up in a way that was meant to address speech versus conduct,” she said. “But I do think it’s important that someone saying something antisemitic, or believing something antisemitic, is not a crime in and of itself in this country and in the state, and that it’s protected in the same way that racism and sexism are protected. The pieces of this that relate to the definition and the context of hate crimes I think is helpful.”

Grafstein said although she appreciates the concerns from those who oppose the bill, she said they are grounded in the political reality right now, but it is more important to show people that antisemitism is not okay. She also said voting no on this bill is not antisemitic and hopes that nobody tries to use a no vote to divide people because there are valid issues that people may have, and she fully supports anyone who has a different viewpoint.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said that while she understands the concerns of the people in favor of the bill, she doesn’t understand why a bill hasn’t been filed on behalf of African Americans who have undergone a lot of hate issues.

“Even when I try to get them to change the statute when Henry Frye had to take the reading test to vote, it’s still in the statute,” she said. “Did y’all know that it’s still in the statute, and nobody wants to change it if we try to change it? So, I’m not against any group. I’m for all people having equal rights, but I think that we need to look broadly at what we are doing so that we can support people of all races, and that’s my concern, similar to Hanig.”

Frye was North Carolina’s first black state Supreme Court chief justice.

“In my opening statement, that’s exactly what I addressed,” Hanig replied. “In my opening statements, I said it is the responsibility of this body to ensure that all citizens of this country and this state are protected from hate and from bigotry, and I stand behind it and always have.”

Reighlah Collins, policy counsel for ACLU of North Carolina, said ACLU does not take a position on international affairs and condemns antisemitism, but they staunchly defend the First Amendment right to engage in political speech, including the ability to criticize governments and their policies. Whether this bill directly criminalizes it or not, a definition of antisemitism that conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism enshrined into law chills constitutionally protected political speech.

“This bill would sweep up not just hate speech but also core political speech, criticism of another government,” she said. “Seven of the 11 examples relate specifically to Israel, including things like claiming the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor. This is political speech.”

She said the IHRA definition cannot serve as a yardstick for determining what is hate speech or religious discrimination and what is not.

A Jewish woman who gave the name Erica spoke about being told to “watch my back” by local “Zionists” in Durham and Chapel Hill. She said she was afraid to speak out about how Palestinians are humans and that she, as a Jew, is not chosen and is the same as everybody else.

“Speaker Moore said it will set a precedent for future law, and then he retracted it later on,” she said. “So, to say that it won’t and it isn’t geared towards hushing people over everybody else is not true. Why does it not go under the umbrella of everything else? Why are the same people that are voting against Critical Race Theory the ones that are voting for this bill?”

Phil Brodsky, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Raleigh, said he spoke on behalf of many other Jewish organizations and federations. He supported the bill and said this is not about speech but about better enforcement of the current North Carolina law.

“There’s confusion about what is and isn’t antisemitism,” he said. “We’re getting calls from parents about their children in school facing things. Administrators don’t know how to handle it. How can we address it if we don’t have a definition?”

The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.