Tennessee House Bill 2673, amending Tennessee Code relative to antisemitism in education, was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee (R) on Wednesday. The groundbreaking legislation describes anti-Israel statements as demonstrating antisemitic bias by teachers in the classroom, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, as well as in institutions of higher learning.
HB 2673 provides educators in the state of Tennessee with a uniform definition of antisemitism, helping state authorities and law enforcement agencies determine when antisemitic bias is present when investigating complaints of antisemitism. To that end, this groundbreaking law adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which includes the delegitimizing or demonizing of the State of Israel, including applying double standards to discussions of Israel.
The IHRA definition also addresses the antisemitic nature of attacks against Jewish individuals or institutions that attribute to all the Jews collective guilt for real or perceived actions by Israel.
Tennessee is the fifth state to enact legislation using the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It followed Florida, Iowa, South Carolina, and Arizona. The IHRA definition has also been endorsed through proclamations and resolutions in Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Missing from the list are some states with the largest Jewish population such as New York, California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
Israeli American Coalition for Action Chairman Shawn Evenhaim applauded the legislation, noting that “As the fifth state to enact legislation using the IHRA definition, Tennessee’s bill sets a standard for other states to follow as they combat antisemitism and confront the delegitimization of the state of Israel in the process. We are grateful to see that Jewish and Israeli-Americans are not left to contend with incidents of antisemitic hatred alone.”
The IAC for Action is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates to policymakers on behalf of the Israeli-American community.
The earliest Jewish settlers arrived in Tennessee in the 1830s and 1840s, and most of them were not Orthodox. The next big wave of Jewish immigration began in 1881 and lasted until World War I. These Jews, mostly from eastern Europe, were more traditional in their religious life than their German predecessors. Several eastern European Jewish settlements were established near port cities such as Memphis, and by the early 1900s, Memphis had a Yiddish-speaking ghetto known as “the Pinch.” Tennessee’s newest Jewish community was established in Oak Ridge in the 1940s, and in the 1950s, they created Tennessee’s most diverse Jewish community. Over the past three decades, Jewish communities in Tennessee’s smaller towns disappeared as older members died and younger generations of Jews left. But a large number of Jewish professionals and businesspeople moved into the state’s urban communities. As of 1996, the Jewish population of Tennessee is estimated at 20,000, with 9,000 Jews living in Memphis and 6,000 in Nashville.