Father of slain IDF soldier to challenge Georgia state senator

David Lubin got to know state Sen. Sally Harrell after his daughter Rose was killed in a terror attack. Then Harrell announced her opposition to antisemitism legislation


The Lubin family

The violence of the Israel-Hamas war hit home for the Atlanta Jewish community in November when Rose Lubin, a 21-year-old Atlanta native and a lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, was killed in a terror attack in Jerusalem. Her death quickly reverberated throughout Georgia, where her family still lives. In December, the Lubins’ state senator, Sally Harrell, honored Rose by authoring a resolution in her memory. 

But the Lubins’ relationship with Harrell deteriorated after she delivered a Senate floor speech in January arguing against passage of a bill that would define antisemitism in state law in order to aid law enforcement and other public officials. The bill passed with near-unanimous support; Harrell did not cast a vote. 

Now, Rose’s father, a general contractor who has never been involved in politics before, has announced a primary challenge against Harrell, a Democrat. David Lubin is pitching himself as a more moderate alternative willing to listen to the district’s Jewish community and take their concerns seriously at a time of mounting grief and fear. 

“If she’s this disconnected with a group of Jewish people that are under threat,” Lubin told Jewish Insider on Friday, “then what is she doing with other stuff? That’s where I really felt I’ve got to do something, not just for the Jewish community, but for other communities as well.” 

Lubin lives in Dunwoody, a heavily Jewish suburb of Atlanta that is currently represented by Harrell. Last year, Dunwoody residents awoke to antisemitic flyers distributed at people’s homes, a problem that has occurred multiple times in recent months in Jewish areas of Atlanta. 

Harrell started her January floor speech by mentioning the flyers. She also invoked Rose’s memory before offering a host of reasons why she could not support the bill. First, she said she worries the bill — which utilizes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism — impinges on Georgians’ free speech. (After the bill was initially introduced in the 2023 session, its biggest critic was a Republican who took issue with IHRA designating some anti-Zionist rhetoric as antisemitic on free speech grounds. Some progressives agree.)

Her larger concern, though, appeared to be with the optics of passing a bill that defines antisemitism and not Islamophobia, even though no similar Islamophobia bill had been introduced.

“If we had two bills today, if we had this bill, HB [House Bill] 30, that defines antisemitism, and we also had a bill that defines Islamophobia, I would feel so much more at peace,” Harrell said in the floor speech. “If we’re going to define antisemitism in the law, then there are a lot of other groups that experience racism, that — they should also have definitions and explanations of what racism looks like.” She also said that while she agrees with the IHRA definition that Holocaust denial is antisemitic, it “doesn’t seem congruent” to formalize that while the state of Georgia does not provide similar protections for the teaching of slavery and anti-Black racism.

More than just a policy dispute, Lubin viewed this as a personal betrayal: He and the bill’s drafters were under the impression that Harrell supported it. 

“She told us she was in favor of the bill. So she didn’t have to speak,” said state Rep. Esther Panitch, Georgia’s only Jewish state lawmaker. “If she really had concerns, she could have just stayed silent. But it was like twisting a knife.” 

Harrell disputed Panitch’s account, saying she never told people how she would vote on the final version of the bill. “I didn’t communicate to anyone how I was going to vote on the bill because I was busy trying to figure it out myself,” she said. In her floor speech, she said she struggled more with this bill than any other she has voted on in 12 years in office. 

“HB 30 was a controversial bill and I heard from Jewish constituents on both sides of the issue. My concern with HB 30 was that it would chill free speech against the Israeli government and I’ve heard from some constituents that it already has,” she told JI. “When you limit people’s ability to speak out, it only breeds resentment and that doesn’t help the Jewish community. It only causes more ill will. I always have and always will stand against antisemitism.” 

Panitch, as the bill’s co-sponsor, was seated behind Harrell on the dais during her floor speech. She saw Harrell walk to the lectern and expected her to speak in favor of the bill.

“I’m on group chats with people watching this in the gallery, and they were like, ‘What’s happening?’” Panitch recounted. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ Just to hear their betrayal in real time — it was horrible.”

Lubin and Panitch connected soon after Rose died, when he was looking for a way to honor issues that his daughter cared about. 

“When she died on November 6, we started to look at how we could get involved to help. Because there were people that were talking to us, and we realized we had a voice and that voice was important,” Lubin said. “My daughter had been in situations at school where antisemitism had affected her, and spoken out against it. But now people were listening.” 

The Lubins have several family members who live in Israel, and Lubin first took Rose to Israel when she was eight years old, a tradition he continued with three of his four other children. (His youngest, Isaac, a four-year-old, is too young. Before she died, Rose called Isaac each morning to sing Modeh Ani, a prayer of gratitude generally recited upon waking up.)

Rose’s desire to later move to Israel became clear on that very first trip. She excelled as a student in Atlanta, and her parents urged her to consider the full array of opportunities available to her before deciding on aliyah.

“This was a girl who had so many talents. She could write, she could dance, she could sing. She was a straight-A student. She was taking AP class and she could have done anything. She was actually on a varsity wrestling team,” said Lubin. 

“She had a very clear direction on what she wanted to do, and we supported it,” he added. “She would say to [peers], ‘We can be friends, but when I turn 18 I’m moving to Israel.’”

The decision to enter the race, as a complete newcomer, comes less than three months before Georgia’s May 21 primary. 

“The people that I talked to said, ‘David, if anyone can stand up to this, it’s going to be you, with your current situation, who you are, what you stand for, what you represent, who has a chance.’ We talked about that as a family,” Lubin said. “My daughter, she lived that way every day. And it inspired me.” 

So far, Lubin hasn’t articulated where he stands on other policy issues, beyond saying that he intends to “think about everybody” and approach governing “from a pragmatic standpoint.” He also argues that his campaign fits into a bigger battle against anti-Israel lawmakers. 

“You can kind of connect it with the progressive movement and the Democratic Party. It is growing there. And then there’s moderate Democrats like me who go, ‘Wait, I don’t fit into that box,’” said Lubin. “Before we turn around, we’re gonna see our state legislatures that are filled with people that are against Israel, and they can change the dynamics of this country for us very quickly.”

Harrell declined to comment specifically on Lubin’s candidacy.

“I have always believed that primaries make for better candidates, so I look forward to having conversations with the people in the district,” she said. “It’s a well educated district, so those conversations should be substantive and informative.”

If elected, Lubin would be the only Jewish member of the state Senate. Besides Panitch, two other Jewish women are running for the state House this year.

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