Bill aimed at banning anti-Semitism in public schools gets some hefty pushback
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law aimed at banning anti-Semitism in public schools while on a trip to Israel.
- But several parties, including Jewish individuals and groups, have raised alarms about its contents.
Amid an alarming number of anti-Israel statements and actions on college campuses around the country, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Wednesday aimed at curbing anti-Semitism in public schools, but that has also received criticism for infringing on free speech.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in our state,” DeSantis said after the bill signing. “We have this problem with anti-Semitism which is growing in the United States and is really out of control in Europe.” DeSantis referenced sanctions made against Airbnb when it delisted West Bank properties in December and also said that the law was “very clear” in its prohibition of religious, particularly anti-Semitic, discrimination.
The law gives examples of anti-Semitic statements, including “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective, especially, but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions” and “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.”
The new law is not without critics, however. A number of state and national groups and individuals, some Jewish, heavily criticized the law for infringing on the First Amendment and for defining anti-Semitism too broadly.
David Abrams, a Florida attorney and former president of Congregation Shomrei Torah said the law gave him “discomfort.”
"It does get [sic] a very broad definition to anti-Semitism,” Abrams said. “I really have some, quite a bit of discomfort in terms of whether or not this is constitutional.”
Another group comprised of more than a couple dozen Jewish Floridians blasted the bill several weeks ago in a letter to DeSantis for conflating anti-Semitism with criticisms of Israel.
“We strongly object on two grounds,” the letter read. “First, the bill offers some examples of anti-Semitism that do not relate to anti-Semitism but, instead, to criticism of the State of Israel.”
“Second, the proposal identifies anti-Semitism, and only anti-Semitism, as an example of religious discrimination” the letter continued.
According to Floridapolitics.com, the letter’s signatories included constitutional lawyer Alan Levine, who has argued First Amendment cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Rabbi Bryan Mann, and Miami lawyer Benjamin Waxman.
“There are 700,000 Jews in Florida,” Florida Republican state Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the bill, said. “The fact that 32 don’t want to ensure their own children and grandchildren be protected in school is disappointing, but not news.”
But Liz Jackson, a self-described “Jewish civil rights attorney” at the organization Palestine Legal called the law “shocking and disturbing.”
“[DeSantis] promised during his campaign to make Florida the most ‘pro-Israel’ state in the nation, and he is making good on that promise and sacrificing fundamental rights of Floridians as he goes, not to mention erasing Palestinians,” Jackson said, according to WMNF.
As highlighted by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board, some of the other definitions of anti-Semitism in the law include “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist.”
Joe Cohn of free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told Campus Reform that the new law will be used to suppress student and faculty speech.
“The enactment of Florida's anti-Semitism legislation has dramatically undermined the Governor's initiative to promote free speech on campus,” Cohn said. “The new law statutorily labels nearly all criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitism, and will serve as a new tool to suppress student and faculty speech around one of the most hotly debated topics of our time.”
Campus Reform reached out to Governor DeSantis’ office, as well as the University of Miami's Hillel chapter, the University of Florida's Hillel and Christians United for Israel chapters, AIPAC, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz for comment on the new law, but received no response in time for publication.
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