Opinion: Antisemitism and hate have no place here

Chabad of Cobb is peaceful Sunday, June 25, 2023 after it was the focus of a small group of Neo-Nazis protestors on Saturday.  The temple always has 24-7 armed security to protect the East Cobb community Jewish temple.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Chabad of Cobb is peaceful Sunday, June 25, 2023 after it was the focus of a small group of Neo-Nazis protestors on Saturday. The temple always has 24-7 armed security to protect the East Cobb community Jewish temple. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

This is no place for hate.

Not here.

Not in our Atlanta. Nor in our Macon. Nor anywhere else in our great state.

Neo-Nazis reminded — and warned — us that intolerance and bigotry are still here when they demonstrated over the weekend at Jewish houses of worship from Middle Georgia to Cobb County.

All who call themselves decent people should be outraged by the sight of swastika flags being raised in the same county where Leo Frank was murdered a century ago.

These hate-fueled acts of rebellion remind us that we live in a society and nation that is experiencing an angry moment. A dangerous one even. The divides are deeper than they have been in decades. Division fuels divisiveness, which can provide a fertile petri dish for prejudices to fester.

Sadly, antisemitic incidents have been on the rise across the country.

This month, a jury in Pittsburgh convicted a gunman who killed 11 people at a synagogue there in 2018. So, the risks here and now are still real — and potentially deadly.

Left unchecked, it’s only a matter of time before things can get out of hand — especially if good people turn a blind eye to what’s going on — or fall victim themselves to misinformation and lies.

We’ve seen this pattern before, in this metro area, state, nation and world.

The silent majority must find its voice and make it heard.

The late Eugene Patterson, when he was editor of The Atlanta Constitution, wisely observed at another critical point in Southern history that there was a terrible cost when “we — who stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring.”

Patterson, by the way, was a U.S. Army officer during World War II who led troops in combat as the world fought successfully to defeat the Nazi threat, and he was writing about a Sunday morning bombing at a Birmingham church in 1963 that saw four girls murdered in a racist attack on a house of worship.

We’re not at that point right now in our part of the South, thank God. We hope we never are again.

But the lessons of history should warn us of the hate-greased slope that can too easily lead us there.

Thankfully, in Georgia, our leaders on both sides condemned these latest acts of intolerance and hatred.

“There is absolutely no place,” Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted Sunday, “for this hate and antisemitism in our state.” We couldn’t agree more. Georgia’s U.S. senators also made their voices heard. In a statement, Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, said: “Today, as symbols of genocide are paraded in front of synagogues, we continue to stand strong, proud, and unbowed. All Georgians are united in our rejection of bigotry and hate.” And Sen. Raphael Warnock wrote in a tweet: “This has got to stop. Praying for our Jewish community in Georgia and beyond. We must all raise our voices loudly against this vile hate.”

While it is well and good that Georgia’s responsible leaders condemned these latest acts of antisemitism, we the people should not lose sight of the larger picture — and our own responsibility as individuals.

We can’t all do as brave passersby reportedly did last weekend in demanding that the ragged group of bigotry-fueled “demonstrators” leave the Chabad of Cobb. But we can all refuse to grant safe harbor to hatred and bigotry in our own hearts, minds and homes.

And we can heed the words of Patterson, who taught about responsibility in that 1963 column when he condemned the “we — who go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.”

If you’re honest with yourself, you know who they are.

In that legislative vein, it’s worth recalling that a bill which would have made antisemitism part of the state’s hate crimes law failed on the last day of this year’s legislative session after the Georgia Senate never called it for a final vote.

The bill had proved controversial as some believed it could limit criticism of Israel.

Surely, lawmakers can find a way to protect both the right to free speech and the necessity of guarding against hate crimes when they convene next year.

Doing all of this is part of being vigilant against today’s perils.

We can do that as well by refusing to go along with the current movement to draw a thick curtain around history that we deem in this day to be too shocking, unpleasant or traumatizing for tender ears and minds to absorb.

We bury the worst parts of our experience at our own risk.

Common sense and an old saying warn us that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

If you don’t believe that, then ponder why misguided souls parade on our soil the Nazi flags that more than 400,000 Americans gave their lives to help vanquish.

Yet, modern-day bigotry continues to thwart their intent.

It’s up to all of us to change that.

We must fight back against antisemitism and all other types of hatred that, from the margins, continue to plague our society.

But first, we must see plainly that they’re still there.

The Editorial Board.