I doubt that the people flinging baggies containing anti-Jewish flyers onto driveways and lawns in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs before the sun rose on Feb. 5 knew who lived in those homes.
In the darkness they could not know whether the people asleep at that hour were or were not Jewish. That included a Jewish member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Esther Panitch.
It did not matter. Sowing unease in areas with Jewish populations was sufficient.
“Welcome to being a Jew in Georgia-my driveway this morning,” Panitch posted on Twitter, sharing photos of the three baggies her husband found when he went outside to pick up the Sunday newspaper.
When we talked that afternoon, she said, “We can be quiet and then nobody knows that is an issue because we’re not complaining about it or we can be loud and then everybody knows.”
There was little question which approach Panitch would follow. The first-term Democratic legislator was emotional, but resolute when she spoke on the House floor Monday morning. “This weekend, it was my turn to be targeted. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time to be afraid as a Jew in the United States,” she began.
Panitch told the chamber that she is named for her great-aunt, Esther Fried, “who was killed by the Nazis because she was Jewish and disabled.”
“The flyers we received demonized Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture. They’re filled with the classic antisemitic tropes about Jewish power and control,” she said. “They came from a group famous for their outright antisemitic lies, including Holocaust denial.”
That would be the Goyim Defense League, which has spread these flyers (in baggies weighted down with corn kernels) across metro Atlanta, elsewhere in Georgia, and throughout the United States.
Each time, Jewish voices ask: Can’t something be done? You may find the answer disouraging.
No matter how vile, how repugnant, how twisted the messages of the Goyim Defense League and others of their ilk, the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States provides broad protection for hate speech.
“The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate,’” U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the 2017 case Matal v. Tam.
“Hate speech is protected speech,” said Aaron Ahlquist, a lawyer and director of policy for the Southern Division of the Anti-Defamation League.
“There are lines that can’t be crossed. They’re really good at knowing where those lines are,” Ahlquist said of groups pushing their anti-Jewish narrative. Taking care to throw flyers on random driveways or placing them on the windshields of random vehicles in a parking lot provides cover for an accusation of targeting Jews.
“Targeting an individual or individual group crosses the line into harassment. Targeting carries that intent piece, Ahlquist said. “Generally, their defense is, we treated everybody the same. They’re very careful in the language that they use to describe their activity.”
There are lines that can’t be crossed. They’re really good at knowing where those lines are,” Ahlquist said of groups pushing their anti-Jewish narrative. Taking care to throw flyers on random driveways or placing them on the windshields of random vehicles in a parking lot provides cover for an accusation of targeting Jews.
What about Georgia’s hate crime law?
“Hate crimes prosecution requires both an underlying crime and the ability to show intent that the action was based on some kind of bias motivation,” Ahlquist said.
Ahlquist and Panitch, who is a veteran criminal defense attorney, said that the best tools currently available may be municipal ordinances against littering, trespassing, permitting, and public safety — which may sound like throwing a toothpick into a tornado — and speaking up.
In her Sunday morning Twitter post, Panitch said: “Govern yourselves accordingly, GDL and Anti-Semites who seek to harm/intimidate Jews in Georgia. I’m coming for you with the weight of the State behind me.”
The Goyim Defense League may have improved the prospects for including a definition of antisemitism in Georgia’s legal code, to aid state agencies and prosecutors in determining whether an alleged crime or discrimination was motivated by anti-Jewish intent.
Flanked by two dozen or more supportive colleagues, Panitch concluded her remarks on the House floor by saying: “We need your help. We’ve had enough. We hope you have, as well. We know you stand with the Jewish community. We know you stand with the Jewish people against hate in Georgia. I’m heartened by all the love and support I have felt this morning. We all know, it might be the Jews today, but the same people will come after you tomorrow.”
- From Where I Sit
- Dave Schechter
- anti-Jewish flyers
- Sandy Springs
- Georgia House of Representatives
- Esther Panitch
- Esther Fried
- Goyim Defense League
- Holocaust Denial
- First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States
- U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito
- Matal v. Tam
- Aaron Ahlquist
- Southern Division of the Anti-Defamation League