Florida Legislature passes bill to crack down on antisemitic activity

Published on April 27, 2023 at 1:26 pm

The Legislature responded Wednesday to a surge of antisemitic activity in Florida — particularly in Jacksonville — with a bill targeting neo-Nazi tactics.

House Bill 269, co-sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, passed the Senate on a 40-0 vote, a week after passing the House by 112-0. It awaits the governor’s signature.

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Florida had a 42% increase in antisemitic incidents last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. These incidents include flyers thrown in yards, roadside harassment, graffiti and messages projected onto buildings.

In Jacksonville, an antisemitic message was projected on the outside of TIAA Bank Field, onto a Downtown apartment building and later onto the headquarters of CSX.

Also, anti-Semitic banners have been hung from interstate overpasses, and anti-Semitic flyers have been distributed in many neighborhoods.

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“The Legislature is recognizing that hate, in particular antisemitism, is on the rise,” said Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood. “And they’re sending a clear message that we’re not going to tolerate that.”

The bill ramps up the penalties for religion-based or ethnicity-based harassment and outlaws projecting images on buildings without permission — and makes that a felony if perceived as a threat.

It also becomes a crime to litter someone’s yard for purposes of intimidation. If that creates fear, it, too, could be a felony.

“Folks of the Jewish faith are like, this is not free speech, this is goddamn targeting me. They’re putting a target on my back,” Chitwood said. “This is a threat to harm my family. That’s what the homeowner perceives when they open their front door. And that’s what this bill is targeting.”

In supporting the bill, Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, noted that Wednesday was Israel’s independence day, its 75th birthday as a country.

Berman said she wished the bill, which focuses on harassment for religious and ethnic reasons, could be expanded to other groups, like those targeted for their sexual orientation or gender — “because we know that there are a lot of incidents in this state of hate crimes and we need to protect all groups.”

Information from WJCT News was used in this report.

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