State lawmaker vows legislative action after antisemitic flyers hit Atlanta suburbs

Freshman Democrat Esther Panitch sponsors bill that would adopt IHRA definition and trigger enhanced penalties for anti-Jewish criminal acts under Georgia’s 2020 hate crimes law

Antisemitic fliers seen in Georgia in February 2023. (Esther Panitch/Twitter)
Antisemitic fliers seen in Georgia in February 2023. (Esther Panitch/Twitter)

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) — A continuing wave of antisemitic flyers has hit parts of suburban Atlanta, including the home of Georgia’s only Jewish state legislator.

State Representative Esther Panitch, a freshman Democrat from Sandy Springs, denounced the flyers from the floor of the House on Monday, with dozens of fellow members surrounding her to show their condemnation.

“This weekend, it was my turn to be targeted,” Panitch said. “Unfortunately, it’s not the first time to be afraid as a Jew in the United States.”

The flyers were found in driveways in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody on Sunday, packaged in plastic baggies and weighed down with corn kernels. Police in both cities said they are investigating.

Similar flyers have been found recently in other Georgia communities including Acworth, Cartersville, Columbus and Kennesaw, and in other states across the US.

Panitch vowed action. She’s a co-sponsor of House Bill 30, which would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition of antisemitism” as Georgia law. In short, it defines it as rhetorical or physical manifestations of hatred toward Jews. This includes “targeting of the state of Israel,” although it also says that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Such a definition could trigger enhanced penalties for anti-Jewish criminal acts under Georgia’s 2020 hate crimes law. Supporters say that too often, agencies don’t react forcefully enough to antisemitic acts.

“We must please listen to the communities for the solutions they need,” Panitch said. “Do not dismiss them. Do not tell them it won’t matter or it’s not necessary. Hear them. We need your help. We’ve had enough. We hope you have as well.”

There’s no evidence that the flyers are related to the proposed law or that Panitch in particular was targeted. Some of the neighborhoods targeted are near a Jewish community center.

The flyers brought a wave of condemnation including from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. The Republican said state investigators would help local police if needed.

“This kind of hate has no place in our state and the individuals responsible do not share Georgia’s values,” Kemp said Sunday.

One flyer from the Goyim Defense League referenced Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager convicted of murdering a 13-year-old girl who worked in an Atlanta pencil factory. Researchers believe Frank was wrongly convicted. Frank was kidnapped from a Georgia prison and lynched in 1915 in Marietta after a governor commuted his death sentence to life.

Panitch said she and her family have previously encountered antisemitic acts, including swastikas drawn on her daughter’s freshman dormitory room at the University of Georgia and antisemitic messages projected at last year’s Georgia-Florida football game, which two of her children attended.

“I get angry because it doesn’t end with that. It continues with injured and murdered Jews,” Panitch said.

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