Florida Senate unanimously passes bill to define antisemitism

File: The Old Capitol and current Florida Capitol buildings are seen, Feb. 8, 2023, in Tallahassee, Florida (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)
File: The Old Capitol and current Florida Capitol buildings are seen, Feb. 8, 2023, in Tallahassee, Florida (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)

Antisemitism would be defined in Florida law under a bill the Senate unanimously passed today after its sponsor warned that an increase in acts against Jewish people will lead to extremism against other groups.

Florida is among several states seeking to define antisemitism. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a similar bill last month.

“Outbreaks of antisemitism can be a harbinger of deep societal trouble and reflect that extremism and violence are eminent. It is dangerous and unacceptable,” says Democratic Sen. Lori Berman, the bill’s sponsor. “When there is hateful behavior against anyone, it can quickly become a societal endemic.”

The bill language was taken from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jewish individuals which may be expressed as hatred toward such individuals. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish and non-Jewish individuals and their property and toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

There has been a surge in antisemitic incidents since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. Even before the war, Florida dealt with neo-Nazi protesters at highway overpasses, antisemitic flyers in neighborhoods and antisemitic projections on buildings, including the Jacksonville Jaguars football stadium.

“This bill is one method to combat antisemitism,” Berman says. “Defining it and codifying it makes a clear statement that we are going to identify, confront and call out antisemitism.”

She said the bill doesn’t infringe on free speech rights and doesn’t prevent people from criticizing Israel as it would any other country. But by having it in law, it will allow law enforcement to use it when prosecuting hate crimes.

The House passed the bill last month, but would need to consider minor changes by the Senate before sending the measure to the governor. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office said he will review the bill once he receives it.

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