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Georgia lawmakers aim to define antisemitism in new bill

House Bill 30 would define antisemitism making it possible to stiffen penalties for hate crimes.

ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers are considering a new definition of what antisemitism is in the wake of what appears to be rising anti-Jewish sentiment in metro Atlanta.

For the past two years, residents in several communities across Georgia are reporting anti-Jewish flyers showing up at homes including in Cartersville, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, and more recently Athens.

A Cartersville resident told 11Alive's Erica Murphy she sees these types of letters often at her home and wants something done about it.

But police there say anti-Jewish flyers have been sprinkled around neighborhoods for years and there’s nothing they can do about it because it's an issue of free speech.

Policymakers see the loophole which is fueling the inspiration for House Bill 30, which is aimed at defining what antisemitism is.

The bill stalled out earlier this week but was revived Thursday.

“The Jewish community is less than two percent of the American population but we make up 60 percent of religiously-motivated hate crimes," Julie Katz of the American Jewish Committee said. "So it's really important that people know what antisemitism is because if you don’t know you can’t fight it."

Katz’s organization has a big stake in whether the bill passes and came out to the Capitol Thursday to lobby in support of it being adopted.

Some of the language to define antisemitism was a big sticking point.

“The definition was awful and the senator hadn’t even talked to a member of the Jewish community," Rep. Esther Panitch said outside the Capitol Thursday. Panitch said she has been previously targeted by offensive antisemitic literature.

"I’m the lone Jewish member of the legislature. The least he could have done is checked to see if it passed muster. I knew within seconds of seeing it. It was bad," she said.

Panitch says hashing the language out has been a challenge but she’s hoping her colleagues will do the right thing and push the bill through.

She explained the bill has one more committee before making it to the Georgia Senate floor.

The last day of the legislative session is March 29. That means the bill would need to be sent to Gov. Brian Kemp by then to become law this session.

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