OPINION: Ron DeSantis signed an antisemitism bill. Georgia leaders should follow suit.

Before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ever jumped down the presidential rabbit hole, he signed a bill in Florida to address a problem Georgia lawmakers have so far failed to get their arms around — the rash of antisemitic incidents that has reached every corner of the state in the last year.

From Dunwoody to Columbus to Brookhaven and Macon, antisemitic fliers have been left on lawns across the state calling the Jewish faith “Satanic” and worse. The fliers sometimes targeted Jewish neighborhoods, but not always. One was left in the front yard of Georgia’s only Jewish state lawmaker.

And all of that was before Hamas attacked Israel. Since then, “Heil Hitler” has been projected onto a bridge over 1-75 in Cobb County. A sign in front of Gainesville’s North Hall Church that read, “We stand with Israel,” was vandalized with red spray paint. A protest on Emory University’s campus by a group called Students of Stop Copy City featured antisemitic phrases and slogans that Jewish students said targeted them directly.

State leaders have been appropriately horrified in their statements denouncing the incidents, but they also seem to have been powerless to address any of it.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Jon Burns called the fliers left around Georgia “repulsive” and the House passed a bill adding antisemitism to the state’s hate crimes statute. But the bill stalled out in March in the state Senate, where Senate Republicans said free speech concerns would land the bill in court, not the hate groups behind the fliers. Even if that bill were to pass, it still would not stop the kind of fliers that have been terrorizing Georgia families, since the legislation is designed to add antisemitism as a motive to increase sentencing for violent crimes.

But that’s where Ron DeSantis comes in. In March he signed Florida’s House Bill 269, which prohibits littering or projecting images onto private property when the message is designed to harass or intimidate any person’s religious or ethnic heritage. The bill moved the focus from free speech to private property rights and passed the House and Senate unanimously.

The Florida Legislature came up with the bill because the state had seen the exact same fliers left on the front lawns of Floridians, courtesy of the same neo-Nazi group that has distributed them in Georgia — the Goyim Defense League. As the AJC’s Chris Joyner reported this week, the GDL is hardly operating in the shadows. It livestreams its exploits targeting Jews on its YouTube channel and makes fundraising pitches to its fellow white supremacists to keep them going. Yes, they’re grifters along with being radical extremists. And they’re based in Florida.

On Thursday, the founder of the GDL, Jon Minadeo II, was found guilty in a Florida court under a separate Florida littering law and sentenced to 30 days in jail. According to NBC6 in Miramar, Florida, police caught him tossing antisemitic fliers from a truck in West Palm Beach and livestreaming himself doing it. HB 269 had not yet passed before Minadeo was picked up, but Florida law enforcement hopes that others around the country are paying attention.

“I hope that we will become a model for other communities of how to deal with this problem,” Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg told reporters after Minadeo was convicted.

DeSantis signed the bill earlier this year during a trip to Israel. Standing alongside him was the sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Mike Caruso, a Republican from Delray Beach.

When he introduced the bill in January, Caruso had clearly reached the same level of frustration that Georgia leaders have. But he explained, “I will not stand here and do nothing. I will not be complacent, and I will not sit around. With that attitude, are we just going to wait for these haters to start breaking the glass windows and storefronts of the Jewish store owners again, like they did in the past, before we wake up?”

And that gets directly to the reason Georgia lawmakers need to find a remedy to the antisemitism and hate that was already on a troubling trajectory before the war in Gaza and has only increased against both Jews and Muslims since it started. Because violent rhetoric sets the stage for violent actions. And Jews in Georgia are terrified it’s only a matter of time before hateful words turn to hateful action again.

We’ve seen it here many times, from the bombing of Atlanta’s Temple 65 years ago to the racial violence that Georgia’s hate crimes law finally began to address only recently.

At North Hall Church in Gainesville, Pastor Bucky Kennedy told WDUN’s Martha Zoller that the church will replace its vandalized sign. But he left the desecrated message as it was for several days for a specific reason.

“I want to make sure that everybody knows antisemitism isn’t an urban issue. It’s in rural areas, too. And it spreads like a disease,” he said. “I think our community needs to recognize it’s everywhere. And you need to understand the issue and be prepared to know what you believe.”

Florida leaders showed what they believe and the neo-Nazi behind the fliers from Dunwoody to Brookhaven to Columbus and Macon will be jailed, at least for a short time. Georgia lawmakers can show what they believe in January, too, when the next session of the General Assembly gavels into session.