Bill defining antisemitism in Florida Statutes heads to House floor — with 1 ‘no’ vote
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 11/7/23-Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie, speaks against a resolution by Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, calling for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine,” Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Nixon’s resolution failed by a vote of 104-2. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The bill’s sponsor says it’ll provide ‘guardrails’ against hate speech. A fellow Democratic colleague believes the definition is ‘problematic.’

Legislation giving Florida a widely applying definition for antisemitism is headed to the House floor after clearing its final committee stop, where a Democratic lawmaker complained the definition is both too broad and too narrow.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 19-1 for a measure (HB 187) that would codify in Florida Statutes a sweeping definition of antisemitism.

If passed, the bill would define antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” and rhetorical and manifestations “directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals, their property, community institutions and religious facilities.”

It lists many examples of antisemitic rhetoric, including “dehumanizing” stereotypes that Jews hold disproportionate institutional power and secretly control the world economy, Holocaust denial and double standards when criticizing Israel, the world’s only Jewish-majority country.

The bill’s sponsor, Davie Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, noted that attacks on Jewish Americans increased by about 400% in the weeks after the Oct. 7 attack in western Israel, where Palestinian Hamas terrorists murdered and wounded thousands and raped and kidnapped hundreds more.

Israel swiftly launched a counterattack that the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry says has since killed more than 22,000 people in the narrow seaside strip of Gaza that is home to some 2 million Palestinians.

In December, the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitism, described the rise of hateful acts and rhetoric against Jews through December as “unprecedented.”

“This bill provides, basically, guardrails as to what is antisemitic hate speech and creates a protocol to sort of follow,” Gottlieb said.

The definition in question comes word-for-word from one the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted in 2016. Florida law already includes it, but it’s tucked away in an education-specific portion of state statutes.

Gottlieb’s bill and its Senate twin (SB 148) by Boynton Beach Lori Berman would make the definition apply to all areas of policy and life in the Sunshine State.

Public testimony on the bill was scant Monday, with only lobbyist Barney Bishop and Maj. Roman Jackson of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office signaling support.

The preponderance of discussion over the measure came from North Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph, who expressed concerns that the definition has been “weaponized” elsewhere against people who support Palestinians and criticize Israel.

Rep. Dotie Joseph suggested Florida use a definition by the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which defines it as “discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews … or Jewish institutions,” but says boycotting, divestment and sanctions against Israel is not antisemitic. Image via Colin Hackley/Florida Politics.

She cited, among other things, opposition to the definition by the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, Palestinian Legal, Jewish Voice for Peace and several nationally renowned media outlets. She also noted that Kenneth Stern, who authored the definition, has since said that it was for the purpose of gathering information and not for legal purposes. He has since repeatedly argued against using it for domestic legislation and policy.

Joseph argued that limiting the definition’s scope to Jewish people excluded others who are Semitic, including speakers of Arabic, Aramaic and Amharic languages. Recent, murders of Muslims in New Jersey and Illinois count as antisemitic as well, she said, but wouldn’t be classified as such under the proposed definition.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in November that there’s been a 216% increase in reported anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias incidents amid rising violence between Israel and Hamas.

“I’m against attacks on all individuals based on their race, religion and other immutable characteristics, which a lot of the law already protects against. I think this particular definition, in its current form, is problematic,” she said.

Gottlieb said the definition, proposed by an intergovernmental agency, has been adopted by around 40 countries, numerous U.S. states and the United Nations, “which I don’t always agree with.”

While the definition may have been weaponized by some, that’s often the case with any definition and should be less of a concern than tamping down on the explosion of hate against Jewish people spreading nationally.

He pointed a Thursday girls’ basketball game in New York, where players from a high school team yelled antisemitic slurs against players from a Jewish day school, including “I support Hamas, you fucking Jew.” In February last year, soccer players from a Jewish school in Miami-Dade County endured physical and verbal antisemitic attacks, including chants that “Hitler was right.”

“We shouldn’t have to suffer those kinds of indignities. That’s what this bill is intended to address,” he said, adding that while the definition “may offend some people,” that opposition is likely overblown.

“The comments are that many different groups, including the ACLU (and others) are strongly against this — this was a meeting that was publicly noticed,” he said. “There’s nobody here to talk against the bill.”

Deltona Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby called HB 187 a “simple but very good bill.”

“You could try to turn yourself into a pretzel all day long, but this is clearly about discrimination against Jewish people,” he said. “This is … about the Jewish heritage, the breakdown of what it means to be antisemitic. Stevie Wonder can see what antisemitic is.”

In November, Florida House members voted 104-2 against a resolution by Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon calling for an immediate cease-fire and de-escalation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani cast the only other “yes” vote. Joseph was absent.

HB 187, which received unanimous support at its first committee stop last month, would go into effect July 1 if approved by the Legislature.

SB 148 awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which Senate President Kathleen Passidomo referred it in October.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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