We salute the state of Florida for its passage by both houses of the state legislature of an anti-Semitism bill aimed at public schools and universities. The house passed the bill several weeks ago and the senate unanimously passed the bill last week, two days after a gunman opened fire in a Poway, Calif., synagogue, killing one and injuring three others. The bill now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has publicly expressed his support and indicated that he will sign it into law.
The new legislation, known as the Florida Educational Equality Act, adds religion to the list of categories for which discrimination is prohibited, and specifically mandates that discrimination against Jewish people be treated the same as acts of racial discrimination.
Although the new legislation is being reported in terms of its application to Florida’s public schools and universities, its impact promises to be far broader in its adoption of a formal definition of anti-Semitism that becomes part of Florida’s general criminal laws.
Thus, it also amends Florida’s hate crimes statute to specifically include anti-Semitism, which it defines ”as a perception of the Jewish people, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jewish people,” through such acts as:
* “Calling for, aiding, or justifying violence against Jews.”
* “Alleging myths about a world Jewish conspiracy or that Jews control the media economy, government, or other institutions.”
* “Accusing Jewish people as a whole of being responsible for real or imaginary wrongdoing by a single Jewish person, group, or the State of Israel, or for acts of non-Jews.”
* “Accusing the Jewish people of inventing of exaggerating the Holocaust.”
* “ Accusing Jewish citizens of countries other than Israel of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations.”
* “Demonizing, applying a double standard to, or delegitimizing Israel.”
The Florida legislature has honed in on what are now popularly referred to as anti-Semitic “tropes” that burst on the public scene in some unfortunate recent comments made by newly minted Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. In point of fact, the new definition was earlier endorsed by the U.S. State Department in 2017.
However, despite careful attention by the bill’s sponsors to First Amendment concerns, full-blown pushback is well under way in the form of letters to DeSantis. Some object to restricting speech in any way. Others to a charge the bill conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
Although we disagree with the criticism, it is not surprising given America’s tradition of reverence for freedom of speech. But in the light of the alarming rise in hate attacks against Jews, anti-Jewish harassment on college campuses and the spike of anti-Jewish invective by private individuals and public officials alike without any consequence to them, an anti-Jewish culture is doubtless building and a clear and present danger along with it. Ultimately, we hope that all sides take the new law as a place to anchor reasoned discussion.