TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State Rep. Mike Caruso alongside other state legislators announced the filing of HB269 Antisemitism Hate Crime Bill Thursday morning in Tallahassee.
The aim of the bill is to define certain antisemitic acts as hate crimes and increase penalties for these hate crimes to the level of a felony.
"Antisemitism and hate have no place in Florida," Caruso said in part during the conference.
According to Caruso, the following hate crimes would be considered a third-degree felony, if the bill were to become law:
- Any person distributing flyers involving materials that have religious or ethnic animus and are mass distributed will be committing a 3rd-degree felony from now on.
- Any person stalking, harassing or interfering with someone based on their religious or ethnic heritage will now be commenting a 3rd-degree felony.
- Any person who willfully and maliciously defaces, injures or damages a religious cemetery, memorial, religious school or community or public or private property with a religious or ethic animus will now be committing a 3rd-degree felony.
- Any person who projects an image of religious or ethnic animus, indoors or outdoors, without permission, written permission from the owner of the property, will be commenting a 3rd-degree felony.
- Any person who willfully interrupts or disrupts, disturbs any religious school or religious service with a pretense of ethnic or religious animus will be commenting a 3rd-degree felony.
"If we don't do something now, then soon we [will] just be 1933 Nazi Germany here all over again," said Caruso in part. "And I will not stand here and do nothing. I hope I speak for all the legislators, my fellow legislators that enough is enough."
An Anti-Defamation League Report earlier this summer confirms extremism and antisemitism are on the rise in Florida. In 2021, the group reported 190 antisemitic incidents and 186 incidents of white supremacist propaganda statewide.
Jeffrey Berger is the Tampa Jewish Community Centers & Federation President. He said these pieces of legislation are encouraging news.
"We have had so many different incidents and attacks over the last couple of years, the rise in antisemitic incidents is very alarming and the fact that the legislature is recognizing it and acting on it is very encouraging," Berger said.
In 2023, six incidents of antisemitism have been reported in Florida so far.
"The fact that we've had incidents reported is one thing, but we also have to take into account that not every incident gets reported, so you know there are countless more incidents that are occurring that don't always get reported up through the authorities," Berger said.
Friday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Berger gave a reminder of just how the Holocaust began.
"The holocaust didn't start with the concentration camps and the chambers," Berger explained. "The holocaust started with hate speech. It started with the stigmatizing and vilifying and delegitimizing the Jews and other ethnic groups."
A recently reported incident of antisemitism took place in Venice earlier this month. 10 Tampa Bay reached out to the Jewish Federation of Sarasota and Manatee on the impact this bill could have.
“Data shows that anti-Jewish rhetoric, demonstrations, vandalism, and assaults are at an all-time high throughout the country and especially in Florida," Lindsey Mintz, Director of Community Engagement for the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee said. "The unchecked spread of antisemitism is not just a threat to the safety of American Jews, but to all people enjoying the privilege of living in a pluralistic democracy. HB269 will elicit a critically important conversation about the dangerous spread of conspiracy theories that traffic age-old antisemitic tropes in the 21st century. This bill says, “We will not be silent in the face of hate, because silence is complicity.”