Free speech vs. hate speech in a time of rising antisemitism

Updated FBI data shows a 20 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes from 2020 to 2021, and ADL statistics show a 36 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in 2022 from the previous year.
According to the ADL, Florida alone has seen an alarming 50 percent increase in 2021 from the previous year. On New Year”s Eve, a glaring message stating “Vax the Jews” was projected onto the top of an office building in downtown Orlando.
Less than two weeks later, on January 14, two masked individuals projected illuminated images of a swastika and antisemitic messages like “Antisemitism is self-defense” and “Jews did 9-11. The FBI helped” onto an AT&T building from a rental truck.
The illuminated hateful words, “Jews are wrecking the USA” appeared on a Wells Fargo building in Jacksonville the same weekend. Neo-Nazi groups, The Goyim Defense League (GDL) and National Socialism Florida (NSF) were reportedly responsible for these incidents.
In January, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was harassed by two antisemites who yelled “Free Palestine!” for two consecutive nights as he left an undisclosed Miami Beach hotel. In an Instagram post, he said he felt these incidents almost became violent.
The following month, banners reading “Henry Ford was right about the Jews” and “Hitler was right” were hung on the Daytona speedway. Antisemitic flyers blaming Jews for the Covid virus and promoting antisemitic tropes about how Jews run the world have been tossed into people”s private property from trucks across Florida, most recently in Palm Beach County.
In Los Angeles on February 16, a violent antisemite shot a visibly Jewish man in his back as he was leaving shul the next morning he returned to the scene and shot another Orthodox man wearing a kippa in the arm. Several months prior, he had sent antisemitic fliers captioned “Every single aspect of the Covid agenda is Jewish” to two dozen former classmates.
On February 23, Jon Minadeo, the leader of GDL, along with other GDL members, harassed a rabbi who was driving outside of a Chabad in Orlando, by spewing their vitriolic hate through a megaphone. Minadeo yelled, “Leave our country and go back to Israel, you know where you bomb Palestinian kids? Where we fund you stupid f—g Jews&hellipYou”ve been kicked out of a 190 nations over 1,030 f—g times!…You filthy Jew, piece of s—t&hellipHeil Hitler, you f—g kikes, heil Hitler!” The neo-Nazis faced no legal repercussions.
On March 14, an emergency ordinance designed to fight antisemitism by fining perpetrators who are projecting antisemitic messages and symbols onto public property was immediately put into place. It was unanimously approved by Palm Beach County commissioners. A similar ordinance was previously passed in Duval County.
Florida House Bill 269: Public Nuisances, an anti-hate-crime bill proposed in January by Delray Beach Republican Representative Mike Caruso and Brevard Republican Representative Randy Fine, would raise offenses from misdemeanors to third degree felonies and hate crimes.
Alluding to the antisemitic pamphlets, this bill would prohibit people from distributing “any material that evidences religious or ethnic animus for the purpose of intimidating or threating owner or resident” onto private residential property. It would also prohibit a person from “maliciously harassing, threatening, or intimidating another person based on person’s wearing or displaying of any indicia relating to any religious or ethnic heritage prohibits willful and malicious defacement, injury, or damage to certain property&hellip” If passed into law, individuals engaged in this type of hateful conduct could face five years imprisonment, probation and a $5,000 fine.
At a press conference on January 26, Caruso stated, “We are called to stand for the six million Jews that were murdered by Hitler”s Nazis in World War II. Today, we are called to stand for the 672,000 Jews that live in Florida. If we don”t do something now, then soon we may just have 1933 Nazi Germany here all over again.”

Representative Randy Fine
Brevard Republican Representative Randy Fine tells Israel National News that he”s been dealing with antisemitism his whole life and gets threats “all the time,” including a recent death threat to him and his family. He explains, “I”m the only Republican Jew in the legislature. I believe I’m the only member of the legislature who has had someone tried, arrested tried and convicted for a death threat. And in my case, it was antisemitism. (The threat was) “I know where you live and I”m gonna come and eat your children.””
Fine says that “it’s the intensity, the frequency, and the lack of anonymity” of antisemitic incidents in Florida that have ramped up at an alarming rate recently. He says that Ku Klux Klan members wore hoods to conceal their identities because they knew on some level that what they were doing was wrong these neo-Nazis on the other hand, are proud to be caught in their hateful acts in videos that are posted online.
When asked about accusations that Jewish people are trying to suppress First Amendment rights, Fine retorts, “The bill has nothing to do with speech&hellipLearn to read. I can’t help it if people are stupid, but again, if they were smart, they wouldn’t be Nazis.”
At a March 15 subcommittee meeting, Rep. Fine elaborated on this point. “You can continue to be as repulsive and repugnant in your speech&hellipwhat this bill does is it deals with action&hellipif you intentionally litter in private residential property, you can be held accountable&hellipif you effectively trespass on someone else”s building by putting up the swastika, you can be held accountable. If it”s your own building, you can do what you want. When they project something on the Daytona stadium, people pay millions of dollars&hellipto get their logos up on that stadium. They”re stealing from that owner&hellip.if you scream at someone and threaten someone as they”re trying to go in and out of their synagogue, you can be held accountable for that.”
Rep. Fine also told of how he met with kids from an NAACP Jewish Federation group the previous day, about half of whom were Jewish and half were black.
Fla. HB 269 was one of the three Bills they really cared about. He described how “a young 16 year old girl talked about how one night when her parents weren”t home, she woke up the next day and she went to get the newspaper and there was a flyer in her driveway that said all Jews should be dead, and she was terrified.”
Brooke Goldstein, human rights attorney and founder and executive director of The Lawfare Project, notes that the Florida HB 269 “does not prohibit or penalize speech that is protected under the First Amendment, even if that speech espouses Jew-hatred or is critical of the State of Israel, its government, or its policies&hellipantisemitism or other religious or ethnic animus in the commission of certain crimes, including harassment, trespassing, and destruction of property, would increase the severity of the associated penalties. Conduct like this is widely criminalized across the country.” She continues, “It is the opposition to legal protection for Jews coming from some elected officials and other critics of these bills that is remarkable. With the frightening rise in antisemitism we are seeing nationwide, legislation like this is desperately needed to protect Jewish communities.”
Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, believes this bill “is an excellent effort to address a very serious current social problem in Florida and around the country, which is the resurgence of antisemitism.”
He notes that it could help protect not only Jewish people. “It’s clearly been drafted in order to address a problem that has been directed at the Jewish community in particular&hellip.people of all religions will benefit from the protections that Florida is contemplating establishing because of antisemitism.” He explains that “under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, hate crimes are not free speech. But hate speech often is free speech&hellipMuch hateful speech, like it or not, is protected under the First Amendment&hellip for that reason, whether we agree or disagree, we need to make sure that legislation that supports the Jewish community will not be struck down by the Supreme Court, if we can find a way to insulate it.”
Marcus describes how antisemites have always fallen back on antisemitic conspiracy theories to defend their case against Jews. “There are some white supremacists who are accusing Jews of trying to suppress their speech and undermine the Constitution. This is the same old conspiratorial antisemitic racism that we’ve heard for years and years. Anytime the Jewish community raises its voice to speak out against injustice, others will accuse Jewish Americans of being overly powerful and malignant. The important thing is for the Jewish community to stand our ground, we can’t let this intimidate us. We can’t let this be the basis on which we shrink from fighting an important fight.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says we are in an unprecedented situation right now. “It”s very important for us to try to make sure that the law can protect our community, and at the same time not to fall into the trap that anything that we propose or complain about would somehow weaken free speech. No one is saying that about Islamophobia or LGBTQ, etc.”
He explains that American Jews have always been extremely mindful and supportive of the First Amendment, but that “when the First Amendment is abused to a degree where members of our community feel threatened. then we need to at least explore and raise the issue of, where do you draw the line?” He adds, “You could be against the bill and not be an antisemite, but if you’re against the bill, then you need to also offer some suggestions about how you’re going to make a difference in the fight against hatred.”
Rabbi Cooper also emphasizes that statistically, there”s a “double digit increase against blacks and a 167 percent increase against Asians, so we should all be in the same boat, even if people aren’t thinking or behaving that way.”
Hidden child Holocaust survivor Tswi Herschel states, “It starts with Jews but it never ends with Jews. The Jews are the canary in the cage. The clock is turning back to the 1930″s, to 1933&hellip. The moment that you have hate speech and you start to defend it, you are on the wrong track. It starts with words and ends in genocide.” Herschel spends his life educating people about the Holocaust so that it never happens again. He believes that the U.S. should have strict laws in place, like in Europe and Israel, against Holocaust denial and hate speech that can incite violence.
Florida HB 269 is currently in Judiciary Committee. It will take approximately six more weeks until it is passed into law.

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