The University of Florida President Ben Sasse took aim at “endless online screaming” and released a statement that Rep. Randy Fine’s allegation about an antisemitic professor at the state’s flagship university (UF) was untrue, and the lawmaker knew it.
On Friday, the outspoken Brevard County lawmaker posted a screenshot from Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons’ Facebook page that equated Adolph Hitler’s child killings at Auschwitz/Birkenau, Nazi labor/death camps, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “ongoing slaughter” in the Gaza Strip.
“A @UF professor is teaching that Israel eradicating Hamas is like Germany eradicating Jews,” Fine posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “In Florida. Where there is a law that requires her termination. This has to end.”
Fine need not be worried, Sasse pointed out, writing that the professor “supposedly forcing despicable antisemitic garbage on UF students” hasn’t pulled a UF paycheck since 2019.
Sasse did not name the professor or Fine in his rejoinder that was posted Monday, addressed to UF “cabinets and deans,” but called it a “thirsty, attention-desperate post” that came from a lawmaker “sharing too-good-to-be-checked clickbait that he knows isn’t true.”
Fine said he wishes Sasse was so diligent in fighting antisemitism at UF. He said he highlighted the Facebook post to one of UF’s lobbyists and received no reply beyond the response, “this is awful.”
Fine said he’s heard from Jewish leaders in the Orlando area who are upset about the professor’s posts as she has an online profile that shows an affiliation with UF.
A call from Florida Politics was the first Fine said he’s heard that Zoharah Simmons hasn’t worked there since 2019, as Sasse said in his Monday post.
“He (Sasse) needs to spend more time fighting antisemitism and a little less time running his mouth,” Fine said, noting Zoharah Simmons’ Wikipedia page notes her affiliation with UF is current as a professor emerita, which means she no longer holds the office but is allowed to retain the title as an honor. She is listed on the UF’s religious studies and women’s studies pages as such.
The Children’s Defense Fund, a national nongovernmental organization, posted her bio in November 2022, saying that she is currently an assistant UF professor.
The UF president’s newbie status appears to be showing, Fine said. Sasse was inaugurated as UF’s 13th president two weeks ago.
“I would be protecting the reputation of my university and fighting antisemitism, not making false jabs at members of the Legislature,” Fine said. “But, you know, he’s new in the job. He’s still learning.”
Sasse said he wants this to be a teachable moment about free speech, engaging ideas with humility and compassion while respecting the dignity of every person — “exactly what terrorists like Hamas reject.”
He warns that posts such as the ones he obliquely references without identifying are a part of the downside to social media.
“Too much social media rots people’s brains and entices folks to grandstanding stupidity,” Sasse wrote. “One of the temptations of our time is to give online screamers exactly the attention they want for their online screaming. Lots of the faux fighters drawing extra attention to online idiocy are accomplishing nothing that makes the world a better place. Instead, they are just fanning extra oxygen to shrill nonsense.”
Zoharah Simmons, who also has Facebook posts alleging that Israel is lying about the Hamas’ Oct. 7 slaughter of Jewish civilians, could not be reached for comment Monday.