‘We need to address this scourge’: Senate passes bill defining antisemitism in Florida Statutes
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 4/20/22-Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, speaks against the congressional redistricting map the Senate later approved, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The bill explicitly says that criticism of Israel similar to criticism of other nations is not antisemitic.

Legislation establishing a broadly applying definition for antisemitism in Florida is one vote from passing.

Members of the Senate voted unanimously for a bill (HB 187) that would define antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and rhetorical and manifestations of such hatred “directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals, their property, community institutions and religious facilities.”

Florida would become the 13th state in the U.S. to comprehensively apply the definition, which 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 statutes.

The measure comes amid a staggering rise in hateful acts against Jews. It would not establish any new law or crime. Rather, the definition could be used in conjunction with Florida’s existing hate crime and discrimination statutes.

“We need to address this scourge,” said Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman, who sponsored the bill’s Senate companion (SB 148). Before the vote Wednesday, Berman amended the House bill so that it matched hers. Davie Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a co-prime sponsor of HB 187, stood beside her on the Senate floor.

HB 187 will now be sent back to the House as amended for a final vote.

The bill’s amended language includes 11 examples of antisemitism that line up with its definition. They include “dehumanizing” stereotypes that Jews control industries and government, “demonizing” symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism such as blood libel, Holocaust denial, and double standards when criticizing Israel, the only Jewish-majority country.

But the bill explicitly provides that the term “antisemitism” does not apply to criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism of any other country. It also states that the measure “may not be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment … or to conflict with federal or state antidiscrimination laws.”

“What this bill will do is help educate and sensitize electeds, Judges, police, teachers, media and civil society to what constitutes antisemitism. It makes the statement that we will not tolerate antisemitism in our society and we will use the full force of the law to rat it out,” Berman said.

“Unfortunately, the Jewish people have often been the canaries in the coal mine, the first to call out danger. Outbreaks of antisemitism can be harbingers of deep societal trouble and reflect that extremism and violence are imminent. It is dangerous and unacceptable, and it is important for us to recognize that when there is hateful behavior against anyone, it can quickly become a societal endemic.”

Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky commended Berman and Gottlieb on their work passing the bill, which received three “no” votes when it first cleared the House floor last month without the amended language on Israel and the First Amendment. Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine, one of the chamber’s most bellicose members, is sponsoring the measure with Gottlieb.

“It’s important that people understand what it is like to be Jewish in this moment and time,” Polsky said. “And truly, this has been a bipartisan effort since day one, supporting Israel and this bill as well. So, we really — from the bottom of our hearts; there aren’t a lot of us in here — appreciate very much everyone’s support.”

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book — who, like Berman, Fine, Gottlieb and Polsky, is Jewish — offered a Hebrew phrase to signify the intent of the legislation: Tikkun olam. The phrase translates to “repairing the world” and generally represents the Jewish faith’s emphasis on making the world a better place.

“Each and every one of us does that on a daily basis,” she said, referring to her lawmaking colleagues.

“But when you think about little Jewish kids … who, when they’re leaving Hebrew school or day school, will take off their kippahs because they’re afraid of going into Publix and somebody saying something that’s unkind, that is the world we live in. And so I want to thank you for standing with us, for the funds that we have put into the budget to protect Jewish day schools, Jewish transportation, and the work Sen. (Alexis Calatayud) has done in standing alongside our community at a time that it is very difficult sometimes to stand alone.”

Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. surged 360%, according to the Anti-Defamation League, since the Oct. 7 attack in western Israel, where Palestinian Hamas terrorists murdered and wounded thousands and raped and kidnapped hundreds more.

In a counterattack to rid Gaza of Hamas that is now nearing its fourth month, Israeli forces have killed nearly 30,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between militants and civilians.

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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