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Antisemitic Demonstrations Across Georgia Spur Calls for State Law and Renew First Amendment Debate

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by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder
June 27, 2023

About a dozen people gathered outside a Cobb County synagogue Saturday bearing Nazi flags, sparking widespread condemnation from both sides of the political aisle in Georgia and renewing talk of state action to address antisemitism.

“There is absolutely no place for this hate and antisemitism in our state,” said Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a tweet. “I share in the outrage over this shameful act and stand with Georgians everywhere in condemning it.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish senator, said in a statement that Georgians are “united in our rejection of bigotry and hate.”

“Georgia’s Jewish community will never be intimidated by antisemitism,” Ossoff said. “Today, as symbols of genocide were paraded in front of synagogues, we continue to stand strong, proud and unbowed.”

Sandy Springs Democratic Rep. Esther Panitch, the only currently-serving Jewish member of the state Legislature, said she was thankful to see Georgians coming together to oppose anti-Jewish hate.

“Thank G-d for community members of all faiths coming together to shine a light to disperse the hate,” she wrote in a tweet. “Together Georgians will win over this darkness. Please do not engage with these unhinged maniacs as they are obviously unwell.”

Panitch was a co-sponsor on a bipartisan bill aimed at adopting a definition of antisemitism in state code, which would not outlaw Nazi rallies, but enable stricter penalties for those who commit crimes inspired by antisemitism.

The bill failed due to concerns over language regarding the state of Israel, but it could be revived during the state’s next Legislative session early next year. Under the bill’s definition of antisemitism, which matches the one adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, certain criticisms of Israel could be used as evidence for discriminatory intent. That would be a bridge too far for some free speech advocates, who say policing political speech around a touchy topic would violate the First Amendment.

“This abhorrent display further emphasizes why Georgia needs an antisemitism definition to address situations when such awful behavior is combined with violence or discrimination,” the bill’s lead sponsor, Marietta Republican Rep. John Carson said in a statement.

Mark Goldfelder, attorney for Hillels of Georgia and a supporter of Carson’s bill, pushed back against the free speech argument, saying the penalties would only take effect if there were an underlying crime.

“HB 30 would not affect an antisemite’s ability to spread their hateful message, because HB30 is not about banning or limiting speech,” he said. “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, some of whom are convicted felons with a history of race-based crimes.”

Another Nazi rally was held Friday in Macon, where news reports say Jon Minadeo II of West Palm Beach, Florida, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and public disturbance and later released on bond.

Minadeo is the leader of a group of antisemitic provocateurs known as the Goyim Defense League, whose past antics include distributing antisemitic flyers around Georgia and projecting antisemitic messages on TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville during a football contest between the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, members of the Goyim Defense League have been arrested in multiple states and charged with serious crimes including battery, assault and making criminal threats.

“HB 30 lets them speak, but it holds them accountable if they should then act on their antisemitic motivations,” Goldfelder said. “That is important because study after study has shown that the kind of inflammatory discriminatory rhetoric that this group and others like them are known for quickly leads to violence against innocent people. We should not wait for that to happen to put them on notice that Georgia cares.”

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Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.