A crowd of over 100 Bal Harbour, Florida residents broke into applause last night after the Village Council unanimously passed a measure that cleared the way for local law enforcement to consider anti-Semitism as a “motivation for criminal offenses in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its Jewish community.”
Unofficially referred to as the “Anti-Semitism Definition Act,” the 5-0 vote adopts the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism — directing the police department to consider this description when investigating crimes, consistent with the federal and state hate crime statutes.
A small Florida town that is popular with snowbirds, Bal Harbour is not new to combating anti-Semitism.
In 2015, the Village Council passed an ordinance “prohibiting the Village from entering into agreements with businesses that boycott a person or entity based in or doing business with an Open Trade Jurisdiction such as Israel, and requiring businesses to pledge not to engage in such a boycott during agreements with the Village.” Two years later, approximately 35 cities have followed Bal Harbour’s lead and have passed anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) legislation that forbids the municipality to do business with or invest in entities that boycott the Jewish state.
Currently, nearly half the states in the union have passed anti-BDS measures, a number that is expected to greatly increase in the coming year. But while debate exists on the inherently anti-Semitic nature of BDS, defining anti-Semitism has also become a subject of controversy.
Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on rising anti-Semitism on college campuses and varying perspectives on the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” currently under consideration by the committee. This bill that passed the Senate (but not the House) last year, would direct the Education Department to rely on the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.
Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman, who introduced the measure, felt the issue was too important to wait for Washington to act.
“As a local municipality we can do things more efficiently and faster than a state or federal bureaucracy,” Groisman explained to the Haym Salomon Center. “Anti-Semitism in our country is growing at an alarming rate. What is right can’t wait for state and federal politicians to act. That is why I have proposed this measure and hope other towns and cities will follow our lead.”
Groisman added after the vote:
We may be a small municipality, but we now represent an important voice. This fight is significant not only for the Jewish community but for the entire American community at large, as hate breeds hate, and we cannot stand still and allow intolerance to threaten our society.
Groisman’s leadership is being praised by Jewish community leaders and members of Congress.
Sara Gold Rafel, Southeast Director for the Israel education group StandWithUs, praised Groisman and the Bal Harbour community.
This legislation will clarify what Anti-Semitism is and thereby help combat it. The bill doesn't regulate anti-Semitic speech, or any form of speech. It relates only to unprotected behavior, such as vandalism. It is definitely a crucial step in the right direction.
Joseph Sabag, Executive Director of the Israel Allies Foundation, an organization that works with elected officials on issues related to anti-Semitism and the Middle East, sees Groisman as a leader in combating anti-Semitism.
"With anti-Semitism rising in the United States and around the world, we need leaders on the local level who can be emulated by other mayors and local officials, who will realize they don’t have to wait for higher levels of government to act,” Sabag said. “Adopting the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism should be a no-brainer for states, municipalities and college campuses. Israel Allies applauds Mayor Groisman’s leadership and can only hope others will follow his example.
Before yesterday’s vote, the Bal Harbour Village Council received letters supporting the measure from Florida Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-26) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-27).
A mandatory second reading of the legislation is scheduled for December 13. At that time, the bill is expected to become law.
“With the passage of this ordinance in December, we will be the first government body in the nation to codify the proper definition for anti-Semitism, reflecting the realities of the day,” said Groisman. “We hope that cities and states across the country will follow, and our nation will continue to reject all forms of hate and discrimination.”
Paul Miller is the President & Executive Director of the Haym Salomon Center.