By: Chart Riggall | Marietta Daily Journal, GA | February 22, 2023
Feb. 22—ATLANTA — Flanked by leaders from metro Atlanta's Jewish community Wednesday, state Reps. John Carson, R-northeast Cobb, and Esther Panitch, D-Sandy Springs, called for passage of their bill to expand protections against antisemitism.
House Bill 30 would create an official state definition of antisemitism, and explicitly direct the state to consider antisemitic acts as having "discriminatory intent."
The bill would bring antisemitism under the umbrella of Georgia's existing hate crimes law, and Carson said it would make using swastikas or other Nazi imagery to terrorize someone a crime.
The bill was passed out of House Judiciary Committee this week.
Advocates of the bill pointed to a rising rate of antisemitic incidents across Georgia and the nation. Panitch's home was among several in metro Atlanta where antisemitic flyers were left earlier this month.
In Cobb County, similar flyers were found in Kennesaw and Acworth in November. And in 2021, several Cobb schools with vandalized with antisemitic graffiti including swastikas and the words "Hail Hitler."
"When my parents came to the United States, they said never again ... and I believed them. But now I am not sure," said Peggy Shapiro, a daughter of Holocaust survivors and an executive with StandWithUs, a group that advocates against antisemitism. "... It starts with the Jews, but it doesn't end with the Jews."
Carson, a Christian, called for support of the bill regardless of religious faith or party affiliation. "I'm here because I believe this is right, this is moral. This is just the right thing to do for people that are constantly being persecuted," he said. "...It is important that we pass this bill, and we end the hate for this community once and for all."
Mark Goldfeder, a rabbi and senior lecturer at Emory Law School, took care to note that the bill would not restrict the First Amendment rights of Georgians. "Anyone can say anything they want to about Israel or Jews," Goldfeder said.
The bill would be applicable only when a crime has been committed, said Panitch. In fact, she said law enforcement had determined whoever distributed the flyers this month had not committed a crime, as it was protected by free speech laws. That would not change were HB 30 to become law.
"To be clear — it does not restrict speech," she said. "The definition does not have any sway until there's an unlawful act ... or a crime has already been committed."
Carson said he hopes the bill will receive a vote by the full House by next week.
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