'My southern Jewish … way of saying bless their hearts,' says state rep who buys trees in Israel for trolls

 

April 19, 2024



(JNS) — Esther Panitch was inspired when Renee Evans, of the World Jewish Congress, bought trees in Israel recently for Peach State legislators who voted in favor of a bill to codify into law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. 

Evans put Jewish National Fund tree certificates on the lawmakers’ desks. “I saw the certificate, and I was like, ‘Huh. This would be great if I could just name it in honor of a troll,’” Panitch, a Democrat who is the only Jewish state representative in Georgia, told JNS.

And so her “trees for trolls” approach was born.

“This is my southern, Jewish, pearl necklace-wearing, woman lawyer from Miami’s way of saying ‘Bless their hearts,’” she told JNS.

On April 11, Panitch posted on social media that she donated a tree in Israel in honor of the University of Georgia chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. “We should build a forest for all the trolls,” she wrote.

The trees cost $18 apiece—$10 each when purchased 10 at a time.

“It made me feel so good when I did it,” she told JNS. “It’s a great feeling. You can get back at the trolls in a way that helps Israel.”

Panitch grew up with a JNF pushke—charity box—near the Shabbat candles and kiddush cup. “For me, it was, ‘Oh. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael/JNF. It’s a win-win. Israel benefits, and the trolls get a little of their own medicine,” she told JNS.

“Doing something to help Israel during this time is great,” Panitch, who is also active in Hadassah, told JNS. “And if it means that I leaned into my petty side a little bit to do it, then that’s fine, too.”

Conservadox

Panitch grew up in North Miami Beach and went to Lehrman Community Day School there. She was raised “kind of Conservadox,” she told JNS.

She and her husband, who were married by an Orthodox rabbi, are members of a Conservative shul. “We’ve always gone between both areas,” she said.

“I’m not shomer Shabbos, but I’m trying to get better, and not be on social media, definitely, on Shabbat,” she told JNS. 

She and her husband, who met at a Greater Miami Jewish Federation singles event — “We’re like poster kids,” she said — keep a kosher home. She went to Camp Ramah and all of her kids went to Camp Judaea. Both Panitch and her husband grew up in Zionist homes.

“We wanted to make sure that our kids had that education,” she said.

Having raised alarms about Jew-hatred long before Oct. 7, Panitch has, to some extent, seen others catch up in the past six months.

“The non-Jewish community really has seen what we deal with, because there’s no way to ignore it anymore,” she told JNS. “It may not have happened in their neighborhoods. Their houses may not have had the fliers, but there’s no avoiding what’s going on in the world. The anti-Israel people are blocking airports and other areas of commerce. You cannot avoid it.”

“I feel good that we have a government that is supporting not just Israel but the Jewish community within the United States,” she added. “I’m especially grateful to live in Georgia, where I have a state legislature and an executive branch that stands by the Jewish community, as evidenced by the passage of the IHRA definition this past year.”

Thick skin

Panitch had a run-in with Jewish Voice for Peace in March 2023, which led her to buy an Israeli tree in honor of that anti-Israel group earlier this month.

After seeing JVP members at a hearing, she invited them to meet with her in her office. Though they scheduled a meeting, the JVP people didn’t show up, Panitch told JNS.

“I’m sitting in my office emailing them, ‘Hey are you in the building? Are you close?’ They said, ‘Oh sorry. We couldn’t get to the Capitol today,’” Panitch said. “Then I saw my minority leader, who said, ‘Can you meet with me this afternoon, there are some Jewish people coming.’ I’m like, ‘Who?’”

He told Panitch the names, and it turned out to be JVP.

“I was in his office when they walked in,” she told JNS. “I was there and they started to cry and insisted that someone who was pro-their side be present in the room, even though we weren’t alone. It was me, my minority leader, the Democratic lawyer, who told them, by the way, that the IHRA definition doesn’t infringe on free speech.”

“Some of their strategies to waste my time backfired,” Panitch said.

It took her some time to realize that Jewish Voice for Peace was going around telling Georgia lawmakers that it represents the Jewish community.

“By the time that we realized that they were lying, it was a little late in the session to educate my colleagues about who actually represents the Jewish community, or who didn’t represent the Jewish community,” she said.

In late November, State Affairs Georgia asked Panitch in an interview what the people of Georgia should know about the war against Hamas in Gaza.

“So I want them to know that anybody who tokenizes Jews by holding up JVP, or IfNotNow, that’s what they’re doing, they’re tokenizing the Jewish community by using some who are willing to be used as a cover,” Panitch told the news outlet. “Don’t forget, there were Jews who supported the Nazi party before they were killed.”

“Well they didn’t like that,” Panitch told JNS, of Jewish Voice for Peace. “They tweeted that Esther essentially called us Nazis.” 

“I said, ‘Thanks for spending so much time on my bill. Am Yisrael chai,” she said, using the Hebrew for “the nation of Israel lives.”

Asked how many Georgians JVP actually represents, Panitch said “The only people that show up to their events are like 20 core people. Tiny. I don’t even know that it’s a rounding error.”

She receives antisemitic attacks from both the far left and far right, she told JNS. The latter came after her in particular when she criticized Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) for amplifying an antisemitic account that attacked a Jewish Washington Postjournalist. (Collins’s social-media post remains live.)

Panitch told JNS that she asked the congressman’s staff in private for him to apologize. “It wasn’t like I initially just slammed him on Twitter,” she said.

Many of the antisemitic attacks she receives also have “a misogynistic slant” to them, Panitch said. 

“I don’t pay attention to people I don’t know. They can spend all of their time trolling me. It’s fine,” she told JNS. “It’s the people I do know, many of whom have either been silent or have refused to stand up, notwithstanding that we, the Jewish community, have stood up for other minorities in their times.”

“I’m a lawyer. I have a thicker skin. I do divorce and criminal defense. I’ve been the subject of hate campaigns before,” she added. “It’s just something you deal with. It’s not fun, but you deal with it. You don’t let it distract you, and frankly, the more it comes, you know you’re closer to your target.”

 

Reader Comments(0)

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2024