On Wednesday evening, Bal Harbour, Florida became the first municipality in the country to implement an ordinance that provides law enforcement with a definition of anti-Semitism, enabling them to investigate such incidents as hate crimes.
Originally passed last month, a second public reading is required by the town bylaws before it can become law. By unanimous vote, the proposed ordinance became law and went into effect immediately upon passage.
“I applaud the Bal Harbour Village Council for standing with me and supporting the passage of this historic ordinance,” said Mayor Gabriel Groisman. “This ordinance protects the interests of our residents by providing our law enforcement officers a clear definition of anti-Semitism, thereby helping to ascertain the intent of persons who engage in unlawful activities, such as assault or vandalism.”
The new law allows law enforcement to use the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as a guideline, while at the same time permitting police to use their discretion in determining whether an incident can be classified as a hate crime.
“Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from hate crimes. The statistics show that Jews remain among the most vulnerable of all religious communities to such crime,” explained Groisman. “Valid monitoring, investigating, and effective law enforcement start with uniform definitions. The use of a uniform definition will serve to enhance clarity of policy and predictability of law enforcement; improve prevention by increasing consistency; and facilitate comparison of intervention and prevention programs across jurisdictions and data collections.”
A small Florida town with a population ranging from 2,500 to 8,000 (depending on the time of year), 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 passed legislation that prohibits the municipality from doing business with or investing in entities that boycott the Jewish state.
Residents attending Tuesday evening’s meeting expressed support for the new ordinance.
One resident praised the symbolic timing of the passage during Hanukkah, telling the local NBC affiliate that it “showed the character of this community to do it during this time of year.”
Another resident added:
Having this happen in Bal Harbour, where Jews, people of color and dogs were not allowed — and now to have this law pass in our neighborhood — is very special.
Groisman thanked area Republican Representatives Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as well as Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, for providing public letters in support of the ordinance. “The support of our U.S. congressional leaders on this important issue meant a great deal to our community,” he added.
In November, Groisman told the Haym Salomon Center, “We hope that cities and states across the country will follow, and our nation will continue to reject all forms of hate and discrimination.”
Bal Harbour’s actions are currently being followed by the nearby towns of Miami Beach, Surfside and Sunny Isles Beach. All are expected to pass similar legislation.
Next month, the state of South Carolina is expected to vote on a similar measure that adopts the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. Sponsored by State Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), the bill had 115 co-sponsors and passed the state’s House of Representatives 103-3. South Carolina’s five-member Higher Education Senate Subcommittee unanimously approved it this past April. A last-minute procedural move by Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) prevented the bill from receiving an up or down vote before the end of the 2016 session.
Paul Miller is the President & Executive Director of the Haym Salomon Center.