BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
TALLAHASSEE – Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson’s courageous “no” vote against a Republican effort to once again demonstrate unconditional support for Israel ahead of the 2020 election has set Florida Democrats in a tizzy and left her standing alone.
The bill (SB 1272) would require schools and colleges to treat allegations of anti-Semitism the same as they would allegations of racial discrimination.
It also defines anti-Semitism, including “demonizing” Jewish people or “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.”
At a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Gibson cast the lone vote against the measure. “I just feel like this is an intentional piece of legislation to divide,” she said.
Violation by Trump?
The controversy comes a few days after President Donald Trump spoke to a predominately Jewish audience using words that could violate the proposed bill.
While addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on April 6, Trump implied that the audience was not loyal solely to the United States by referring to Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, as “your prime minister.”
Later in his speech, Trump referred a second time to American Jews as if they were Israelis by saying that a Democrat victory in 2020 “would cripple our country and very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves.”
Accusing Jews of having a “dual loyalty” is considered to be an anti-Semitic tactic. However, no prominent Republican, including the sponsors of the Florida bill, have criticized Trump.
Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, members of Gibson’s Democratic caucus – including a handful of Jewish senators – met behind closed doors, where they fumed.
“I’m very disappointed in my leader. Extremely disappointed,” Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, whose wife is a rabbi, told The News Service of Florida.
“If…there was a bill on racism and I have a number of caucus members who are African-American, I think I would be voting against racism, in all forms. Unfortunately, we’re at the point that she didn’t do that.”
Gibson has support
“We see this (bill) as very troublesome because it hinders our First Amendment rights and also… it’s an inequitable bill that caters only to one of the multiple religious minorities that face discrimination on a regular basis in Florida,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It’s the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the state.
“Criticizing Israel for inter-religious tensions or political tensions is criminalized in this bill. Ordering an investigation of the state of Israel for human rights violation could be seen as a crime as well,” he said.
“So to criminalize those First Amendment protected expressions is a problem that this bill brings, convoluted with the legitimate purpose of protecting the Jewish community from anti-Semitism.”