Florida legislators approved a bill banning anti-Semitism in the state’s public schools and universities two days after a deadly synagogue shooting in Poway, California, sent shockwaves through U.S. Jewish communities.
The GOP-sponsored bill passed unanimously in the state Senate on Monday and is now heading to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, the Miami Herald reported.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Joe Gruters, referred to the shooting at Chabad of Poway before the bill was passed. One woman was killed in the rampage on Saturday and three others were wounded.
The 19-year-old suspected shooter allegedly yelled anti-Semitic slurs as he entered the synagogue on the last day of Passover, The New York Times reported. Officials are investigating whether he posted an anti-Semitic and white nationalist manifesto to an online message board before the shooting.
“He knew nothing about the victims, other than that they were Jewish. That was enough for them to die in his own mind,” Gruters said about the shooter, according to the Miami Herald. “Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and we have the ability to do something about it. No one is born with hate in their heart.”
Greg Bull/ASSOCIATED PRESS Two people embrace near a memorial across the street from the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, on April 29, 2019.
The Florida bill requires public school officials to treat anti-Semitic behavior by students or employees the way they treat racial discrimination. The measure includes a lengthy explanation of anti-Semitism, defining it as expressing hatred for Jewish people, making “mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical” allegations about Jews or Jewish organizations, and denying facts about the Holocaust.
The bill also incorporates Israel into its definition of anti-Semitism. It states that “delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” “blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions,” and “requiring behavior of Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” should all be counted as examples of anti-Semitism.
Critics of the bill take issue with the fact that it only refers to religious discrimination against Jewish people, since other religious minorities have also been recently targeted for violence. Some also fear the bill would silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies.
The bill’s text states that “criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism toward any other country may not be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
Gregory Bull / ASSOCIATED PRESS Yishoel Goldstein, center, Rabbi of Chabad of Poway, speaks on April 29, 2019, during a memorial service for Lori Kaye, in Poway, California.
The measure was first introduced in the Florida House in February, where it later passed unanimously. It was tabled in the Senate, but leaders in the legislature allowed it to be brought before legislators on Monday.
The bill comes amid a nationwide spike in anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents at K-12 schools and on college campuses nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017.
The Poway shooting comes six months after Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue massacre, which left 11 people dead.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is Jewish, said that the bill’s passage was a “mitzvah,” which in Jewish tradition means “a good deed.”
“Let’s continue to do mitzvot,” said Taddeo. “As it’s the best way to honor the victims of these acts.”