Group of Jewish Floridians hammer anti-Semitism bill, call for veto

The bill's sponsor Randy Fine dismissed the group as not representative.

A group of more than 30 Jewish Floridians wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday saying the anti-Semitism bill heading to his desk goes beyond what is appropriate.

Signatories of the letter, which include constitutional lawyer Alan Levine, prominent Miami lawyer Benjamin Waxman, and two rabbis among others, urges the Governor to veto the bill.

“While HB 741 is to be commended for adding ‘religion’ to the prohibited categories of discrimination in the existing law, as Jewish Floridians, we strongly object on two grounds to those provisions of the bill relating to anti-Semitism:

“First, the bill offers some examples of anti-Semitism that do not relate to anti-Semitism but, instead, to criticism of the State of Israel.

“Second, the proposal identifies anti-Semitism, and only anti-Semitism, as an example of religious discrimination,” the letter states.

Those criticisms had sparked a backlash from the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County, when others raised them as the bill was being debated in the Florida Legislature.

After Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville raised concerns that other forms of religious discrimination ought to also be described, Fine questioned her commitment to anti-Semitism.

Ultimately, Gibson backed down and strongly supported the bill as the Florida Senate approved it Monday.

When one of Fine’s Jewish constituents publicly raised the criticism of the Israel references in the bill, Fine, who also is Jewish, blasted him on social media.

This time, the criticism comes from a group that defines itself as a “cross-section of Jews from different backgrounds and communities activists, lawyers, rabbis, business owners, educators.”

They include Levine, a lawyer from Miami Beach who has argued many First Amendment cases, including some before the U.S. Supreme Court; Waxman; Rabbi Bryan Mann of Brandon; and Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of RSR Research in Miami.

They all denounced Fine’s earlier criticisms of opponents as “inflammatory and derogatory,” and charged he “seems to have another agenda.”

Fine responded Tuesday evening by expressing doubt that there is any significance to the views of this relatively small group.

“There are 700,000 Jews in Florida. The fact that 32 don’t want to ensure their own children and grandchildren be protected in school is disappointing, but not news,” he wrote.

HB 741 aims to prohibit anti-Semitic speech and behavior in Florida’s public schools, colleges, and universities. It was approved 114-0 in the Florida House and 40-0 in the Florida Senate, receiving a full-throated endorsement from Gibson, as well as from several Jewish lawmakers of both parties.

The group who wrote to DeSantis stated that they have a wide variety of views concerning Israel but are united in two beliefs: that “anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel should not be conflated” and “those who criticize Israel have a constitutional right to do so.”

“At a time when we should be welcoming and valuing open debate on issues of social concern, HB 741 is a heavy-handed attempt to silence public criticism of the Israeli government’s human rights violations,” they state in the letter to DeSantis. “Agree or disagree with the critics, the Florida Legislature has no business intruding on those discussions. Additionally, the accusation that such criticism is anti-Semitic does a disservice to the real issues of anti-Semitism that should concern all of us today.”

DeSantis himself has been a high-profile advocate of Israel and its government, starting with his assuming a national leadership when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, in pushing for the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That advocacy continued throughout his campaign for Governor, and through his first four months in office.

Among other matters, he denounced and blacklisted the vacation rental-home marketing platform Airbnb over its Israel policies, which the company has since abandoned.

DeSantis is planning a weeklong trip to Israel in late May that will include a Florida Cabinet meeting.

“Second,” the letter continues, “we are deeply opposed to the bill’s implication that anti-Semitism is a greater concern than other forms of religious discrimination. While there have been tragic examples of anti-Semitism recently, we are, for example, well aware that Muslims in this state and country have been subjected to particularly heinous episodes of discrimination, and that the impact of those incidents on the Muslim community have been greatly amplified by the Federal government’s Muslim ban and other examples of Islamophobia.”

There are several provisions in HB 741, now awaiting DeSantis’ signature, that define statements about Israel as anti-Semitic, but those are specific to describing common aspersions or falsehoods often cast in anti-Semitic rhetoric, or to include statements that single Israel out for standards not applied to other countries.

The bill also explicitly states: “However, criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism toward any other country may not be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The bill inserts “religion” into several anti-discrimination clauses in Florida statutes regarding public schools, colleges and universities, but does not, in any of those specific references, single out Judaism for any special protections.

Those additional protections come from new provisions added by the bill, seeking to define anti-Semitism as it is defined by the U.S. Department of State, including prohibitions of language such as that “[m]aking mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


  • Susan Aertker

    April 30, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Please follow up with Representative Fine and ask him why (IF it is such a good law) he doesn’t want it to apply to private schools that receive public money via vouchers. Shouldn’t we be concerned about antisemitism in private schools receiving voucher money? The bill should have specifically said it applies to the neighborhood schools, the charter schools and private schools receiving voucher money.

    Speaker of the House Jose R. Oliva didn’t even allow Representative Geller’s amendment 750747 to be considered before the House voted on SB 7070.

    My comments aren’t about the parts in the bill about Israel. The Jewish leaders may have a point about that. I don’t know. BUT the parts of HB 741 that try to prevent bullying should apply to the private schools that receive voucher money.

    Link to the Representatives Geller’s amendment to SB 7070:
    Link to details of SB 7070:

  • Kyle

    May 1, 2019 at 9:52 am

    This is going to backfire.
    This law can only increase antisemitism.
    All this does is enforce the narrative that Jews have special privileges.
    This is the exact wrong thing to do.

    • Janet gold

      May 5, 2019 at 6:04 am

      That’s kind of anti Semitic

  • bkt1965

    May 1, 2019 at 10:02 am

    The law does go too far. We should be able to criticize Israel or any other nation, First Amendment. Ant-semitism is being classified as hate understood but speech needs to be protected.

    • Janet Gold

      May 5, 2019 at 6:07 am

      No we should not, criticism of Israel is veiled antisemitism.

  • John

    May 1, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Very confusing as to how nobody is bringing up the elephant in the room: this is 100%, completely, entirely, unambiguously unconstitutional. Has anyone here ever heard of the 1st amendment? I am living in clown world.

    • Janet Gold

      May 5, 2019 at 6:15 am

      The first amendment does not apply to Israel, nor should it, special laws need to be in place to protect the Jewish community, you can have all the Free speech you want, but not to encourage another holocaust, Jews have suffered enough,

  • Brian

    May 1, 2019 at 10:42 am

    It shouldn’t be anti-semitic to criticize Israel. Language goes too far.

  • Joe S.

    May 1, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    I don’t see how this law will be enforced. What state attorney is going to devote scarce resources to this? Will speech courts be created? What kind of speech falls under this law?

  • Lee Smith

    May 1, 2019 at 10:27 pm

    The bill allows Israel to be treated as any other foreign nation and criticized. However, it does not allow Israel to be singled out as the anti semitic BDS folks do. It also says that claiming Israel should not exist as the Jewish homeland is a form of antisemitism, again a goal of the BDS movement. Some Jews seem to just want to fade into the background and hide their heritage. As my father in his wisdom used to tell me when I told him I was an American, not a Jewish American– “you may wish to deny your Judaism but the antisemites will define it for you…” Not a very positive approach to being Jewish but a good starting point for those Jews who think they can hide by opposing bills like this one. Kol Ha Kavod to the elected officials who voted for this and I certainly hope and pray the governor accepts it. As far as my fellow “Jews” who are embarrassed by this — for shame.

    • bkt1965

      May 2, 2019 at 8:23 am

      Lee not sure what Utopia or fantasy world you live in? The Jewish community here in South Florida is very powerful and hold many elected positions. Matter of fact some races are all Jewish candidates. We have a very proud Jewish community here no one is hiding anything and usually it’s a plus when running for elected office. Not to say there’s no hate crimes committed or bullying but we’ve come a long way.

    • David

      May 3, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      “Israel” is not “the Jewish homeland.” It is the homeland of its indigenous Palestinian Arab inhabitants, who including their ancestors, have lived continuously between the River and the Sea for about 15,000 years.**

      The Jebusite/Canaanites were ancestors of today’s Palestinians and it was they who founded Jerusalem around 3000 BCE. Originally known as Jebus, the first recorded reference to it as “Rushalimum” or “Urussalim,” site of the sacred Foundation Rock, appears in Egyptian Execration Texts of the nineteenth century BCE, nearly 800 years before it is alleged King David was born. Its name “seems to have incorporated the name of the Syrian god Shalem [the Canaanite God of Dusk], who was identified with the setting sun or the evening star…and] can probably be translated as ‘Shalem has founded’.” (Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths; Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1996, pp. 6-7)

      No credible archaeological evidence, or more importantly, writings of contemporaneous civilizations, have been found that prove Solomon or David actually existed. (Nor has any real evidence been discovered to confirm that the Jewish exodus from Egypt ever occurred.)

      Renowned Jewish Israeli writer/columnist, Uri Avnery: “[David and Solomon’s] existence is disproved, inter alia, by their total absence from the voluminous correspondence of Egyptian rulers and spies in the Land of Canaan.” (“A Curious National Home,” by Uri Avnery, May 13/17

      It is estimated that the Hebrews did not invade until circa 1184 BCE and their resulting United Kingdom of Israel, which never controlled the coast from Jaffa to Gaza, lasted only about 75–80 years, less than a blip in the history of Canaan and Palestine. Even the Hasmonean Dynasty under the Maccabees lasted only about 70 years (circa 140–70 BCE) and it was under Roman tutelage.

      Renowned historian/anthropologist and “Holy Land” specialist, Professor Ilene Beatty: “When we speak of ‘Palestinians’ or of the ‘Arab population [of Palestine]‘, we must bear in mind their Canaanite origin. This is important because their legal right to the country stems… from the fact that the Canaanites were first, which gives them priority; their descendants have continued to live there, which gives them continuity; and (except for the 800,000 dispossessed refugees [of 1948 along with the further hundreds of thousands expelled before and after the war Israel launched on 5 June 1967]) they are still living there, which gives them present possession. Thus we see that on purely statistical grounds they have a proven legal right to their own land.” (“Arab and Jew in the Land of Canaan,” 1957)

      Front. Genet., 21 June 2017 |
      “The Origins of Ashkenaz, Ashkenazic Jews, and Yiddish”
      “Recent genetic samples from bones found in Palestine dating to the Epipaleolithic (20000-10500 BCE) showed remarkable resemblance to modern day Palestinians.”

      “The non-Levantine origin of AJs [Ashkenazi Jews] is further supported by an ancient DNA analysis of six Natufians and a Levantine Neolithic (Lazaridis et al., 2016), some of the most likely Judaean progenitors (Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002; Frendo, 2004). In a principle component analysis (PCA), the ancient Levantines clustered predominantly with modern-day Palestinians and Bedouins and marginally overlapped with Arabian Jews, whereas AJs clustered away from Levantine individuals and adjacent to Neolithic Anatolians and Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Europeans.”

      “Overall, the combined results are in a strong agreement with the predictions of the Irano-Turko-Slavic hypothesis (Table 1) and rule out an ancient Levantine origin for AJs, which is predominant among modern-day Levantine populations (e.g., Bedouins and Palestinians). This is not surprising since Jews differed in cultural practices and norms (Sand, 2011) and tended to adopt local customs (Falk, 2006). Very little Palestinian Jewish culture survived outside of Palestine (Sand, 2009). For example, the folklore and folkways of the Jews in northern Europe is distinctly pre-Christian German (Patai, 1983) and Slavic in origin, which disappeared among the latter (Wexler, 1993, 2012).”

    • Tigger

      May 4, 2019 at 11:10 am

      #1. “As my father in his wisdom used to tell me when I told him I was an American, not a Jewish American– “you may wish to deny your Judaism but the antisemites will define it for you…”

      What happens when you define yourself as an American WITHOUT the ‘Jewish’ tag? Do the majority of people refer to you as ‘that Jew’?

      #2. Did you and/or your colleagues or family ever boycott South Africa on account of their apartheid system?
      If yes, then what is the difference between those (very comprehensive) boycotts and BDS?

  • Lindy

    May 2, 2019 at 9:36 am

    I hope the Gov signs it…Shame on those self hating Jews!


    May 3, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    welp,just going to make Jew jokes everyrwhere I go now!

    Why do Jews have big noses? Because air is free!

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn


This is default text for notification bar