This past Saturday, a group of rabid antisemites once again littered several predominantly Jewish communities around the greater Atlanta area with vile antisemitic literature that demonized Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture.
Let us assume for a moment that the type of vile language they employed in those flyers is not incitement, and that the people who distributed them in the dead of night did not violate any trespass laws by putting them on private property. Let us assume that what they did is simply protected free speech, as they preemptively claimed. That does not mean that we should not speak out collectively against it, and label it correctly, as antisemitic.
Hate speech is protected, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call it hateful. It is important that we do so because right now, there is no accepted definition of antisemitism in Georgia, and, according to a recent survey, roughly half of all Americans claim that they do not know what antisemitism is. Practically speaking, what this lacuna means is that if the very people distributing antisemitic literature today under their free speech rights, were then to target and commit a hate crime against a Jewish child tomorrow, they would be able to say- with a straight face- that their actions were not motivated by antisemitism, but rather, for example, by their anti-Zionist political leanings. (This is a group that is also famous for blaming Israel for all the world’s problems.)
That is why there is currently legislation pending in Georgia, HB30 (sponsored by Rep. John Carson and Esther Panitch, the only Jewish legislator in the entire Georgia General Assembly, among others,) to provide a definition of antisemitism for authorities to use when they are assessing the intent behind unlawful hate crimes and discrimination. It is crucial that everyone know what is and is not antisemitic because study after study has shown that the kind of inflammatory discriminatory antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric that this group and others like them are known for, quickly leads to violence against innocent Jewish people.
When a person attacks a Chinese American because they hate China, everyone understands that this is race/ethnicity-based discrimination. When a person attacks a Jewish American because they hate Israel, all too often people say that it might just be ‘political’ and not anti-Jewish. This bill gives authorities a standard to use as contextual rebuttable evidence of intent for unlawful conduct. Note that opponents of the bill are NOT asking for the ability to continue criticizing Israel – this bill has nothing to do with speech and they have every right to say what they want. They are asking for the ability to continue attacking Jews because of their hatred and get away with it.
When a person attacks a Chinese American because they hate China, everyone understands that this is race/ethnicity-based discrimination. When a person attacks a Jewish American because they hate Israel, all too often people say that it might just be ‘political’ and not anti-Jewish.
As it stands, there is no definition in the law for a prosecutor to be able to point to and say that no, targeting an innocent Jewish person because you think Israel did 9/11 is antisemitic, and that was a hate crime.
Does that example sound farfetched? In 2017, a German court decided that the firebombing of a synagogue in Wuppertal was not antisemitic, because the criminals claimed that it was just the way they chose to express their anti-Israel politics. Do you think it couldn’t happen here? Last week lawmakers heard testimony from students in the Georgia public school system who were terrorized with swastikas and death threats while the school administrators wrung their hands and said they weren’t sure if it was antisemitism. They also heard about an innocent girl at a Georgia university who was viciously harassed because she dared to go on a Birthright trip.
To be clear – this bill would not affect an antisemite’s ability to spread their hateful message, because HB30 is not about banning or limiting speech. It is only about helping to stop unlawful discriminatory conduct. But incidents like what happened this weekend do absolutely make it clear why this bill is obviously necessary – because there are clearly hateful bigots out there who are not shy about their intentions. HB30 lets them speak, but it holds them accountable if they should then act on their antisemitic motivations.
There is wide bipartisan support on this bill, and the major Jewish organizations representing the vast majority of Jewish Atlanta have already testified in support of it. I hope that we can all get behind it, and protect the members of the Jewish community, who need this protection.
Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center and Counsel for Hillels of Georgia.