‘Bittersweet’: House passes bill defining antisemitism in Florida Statutes with 3 ‘no’ votes
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 definition comes word-for-word from one the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted in 2016.

As hateful acts against Jewish people climb to “unprecedented” levels, a bill establishing a broadly applying definition for antisemitism in Florida passed on the House floor.

All but three lawmakers supported it.

The measure (HB 187), which pends approval in the Senate, would define antisemitism in state statutes 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.”

HB 187 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.

Davie Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, the bill’s sponsor, said passing the measure is “bittersweet” because it demonstrates that it is still necessary to “define any ‘ism’ in this day and age, that we’re not open-minded enough.”

He said that while working on the bill, which encountered pushback in committee hearings, that he frequently thought of the “Coexist” sticker seen commonly on vehicles across the state.

“And it puzzles me, it truly puzzles me, that we can’t and that we don’t,” he said.

The definition in HB 187 is taken word-for-word from one the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted in 2106. Florida law already includes it, but it’s tucked away in an education-specific portion of statutes.

Gottlieb and Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman filed identical legislation to apply the definition to all Florida legal matters shortly 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 24,000 people in the narrow seaside strip of Gaza that is home to some 2 million Palestinians.

Since then, there have been more than 100 “serious issues of antisemitism” in Florida, Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine said.

“We unfortunately live in a world where, since Oct. 7, we’ve had people say you have to understand the context of antisemitism,” he said, adding that Jews are “the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to discrimination.

“They want us first,” he said. “But after they’re done, they’re coming after everybody else.”

House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson both voted for HB 187, but expressed concerns about how it could potentially run afoul of the First Amendment.

Like North Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph did during the bill’s last committee stop, Hinson suggested that Florida should instead adopt the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism’s definition, which does not include considerations for Israel commensurate with those of the IRHA’s definition.

Driskell thanked Gottlieb for working hard “to protect our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“It’s very important that we do our part in the Legislature to stamp out hatred in the world,” she said. “But as an attorney, I also know there’s some things in this bill that we can continue working on to make the language even better.”

Joseph voted “no” on the bill. So did Democratic Reps. Anna Eskamani of Orlando and Angie Nixon of Jacksonville, both of whom cast the sole “yes” votes Nov. 7 for a resolution Nixon filed supporting a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Berman’s bill (SB 148), filed two days after the massacre in Israel, has not yet received a hearing.

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.


  • Thomas Baxter

    January 19, 2024 at 12:31 pm

    We must remember savage terrorist so-called Palestinians have no more right to live in Judea, Samaria or Gaza than the savage terrorist Seminoles had to live in Florida.

    • My Take

      January 19, 2024 at 1:05 pm

      A history teacher in a red red county one guesses.

  • My Take

    January 19, 2024 at 1:09 pm

    The general language in the law(?) plus the chronic-karenism in society will likely lead to problems.

  • Margaret

    January 19, 2024 at 5:55 pm

    So, are we to understand that people can no longer criticize Israel, at all, for anything? Will any criticism of anything that happens in the Gaza-Israel war, caused by rogue IDF soldiers, will be grounds for prosecution? Or, dangerous policies of Israeli politicians which threaten peace in the Middle East?

    This is not anti-semitism, this is simply a question: will people lose freedom of speech to criticize, to question, and to work toward a better world for all? To have compassion for Palestinian children and parents?

    • Christine

      January 19, 2024 at 6:48 pm

      I think only Jewish people should be defining what antisemitism is, since they are the group that suffers from it. That definition was adapted in International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)… and now Florida accepted that definition.
      Unless you think you can define antisemitism better than the Jews , of course…

      • My Take

        January 19, 2024 at 8:58 pm

        Let them define it for their own uses, of course.
        But not as part of official rules for others.

    • My Take

      January 19, 2024 at 9:03 pm

      Any public criticism of Israel already soon gets called “antisemitic.”
      Unless by a Jew. They are called “self haters.”

  • Christine

    January 20, 2024 at 3:52 pm

    Then according to you, there should be several definitions of antisemitism. One is what Jews consider offensive and the other one is what the public feels Jews should find offensive… interesting.
    Do we have several definitions for other forms of hatred/ bigotry?

    • My Take

      January 21, 2024 at 9:51 am

      It should take more than mere offense to get restrictions in a freedom-of-speech democratic republic.
      Imagine trying to get this degree of protection from offense for black people.

      • Christine

        January 21, 2024 at 7:37 pm

        The bill did not restrict our freedom of speech, it defined what discrimination of Jews is. I think the Jews are capable of defining what constitutes hate against them.
        Our freedom of speech is protected under the 1st Amendment until it crosses into discriminative action based on antisemitism ( in this case).

  • My Take

    January 21, 2024 at 10:30 pm

    “The measure (HB 187), which pends approval in the Senate, would define antisemitism in state statutes ”
    The statutes provide the action.

  • Michael Rosen

    January 22, 2024 at 10:36 am

    Anti Israel rhetoric is just antisemitism, plain and simple. This Bill is needed. Hamas and the residents of Gaza who support Hamas have lost their rights after the Oct. 7 massacres. Israel actions are identical to the U.S. response after Pearl Harbor and 911.

  • It's Complicated

    January 22, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    This would create more structure for prosecuting existing “hate crime” statutes. Florida’s existing hate crime statute (775.085 FS) steps up severity and penalties for crimes perpetrated against people who are intentionally selected or targeted for the crime ‘because of the person’s’: Race, Color, Religion, Ethnicity, Ancestry, National Origin, Sexual Orientation, Homeless Status, Age, Mental/Physical Disabilities. At some point, the Legislature may link this new section (1.015 FS) by reference, to existing criminal law sections of statute to make it iron clad.

    Keep on mind, the ‘ism’ is NOT the crime. (which probably would be a First Amendment issue). The level of severity of a crime is heightened because of the selection of the victim is based upon one of those criteria. With respect to Free Speech concerns, the courts have never equated free speech with ‘speech without consequences.’ Free speech is often the evidence used against a person to prove intent in a criminal court, and things such as threatening, inciting, conspiring, tampering, etc., are not protected as free speech.

  • Concerned

    January 24, 2024 at 10:42 am

    You can’t criticize a FOREIGN COUNTRY. How wacky is that…

Comments are closed.


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