Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation banning anti-Semitism in Florida schools


  • Photo by Joey Roulette
During the Florida cabinet's trip to Jerusalem, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday banning anti-Semitism in the state's public schools.

The bill – HB 741, the first piece of Florida legislation ever signed on foreign soil – was unanimously approved last month. The new law bans discrimination on the basis of religion in public schools, including at state-funded institution of higher education.

Included in the bill's language, it provides discriminatory examples such as "making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing or stereotypical allegations about Jews" 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."

Prior to DeSantis signing HB 741 into law, state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who sponsored the House version of the bill and who is Jewish, told a story about how he failed 7th grade algebra when he was forced to miss a test on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.

He claimed his teacher told him it wasn't a "real holiday."

"I swore when my boys were born that wouldn't happen to them," Fine said, before he cited several anti-Semitic incidents that occurred earlier this year in Alachua County. "Unfortunately anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States again, emboldened, unfortunately, by many in Washington."

Fine continued, "This bill is going to do two things: It's going to define anti-Semitism and it's going to say that if you engage in anti-Semitism in our public schools and universities, you'll be be held just as responsible as if you engage in racist activity."

Asked how the bill would work in practice, the governor said it would act as a preventative for those who are funded by public dollars, and who are "trying to spew" anti-Semitism in the classroom.

"Maybe it dissuades somebody from adopting a policy that would do that," DeSantis said. "Maybe it can just kind of offer a gentle course correction."

According to last year's Audit of Anti-Semitism Incidents, the Sunshine State saw one of the nation's largest surges in anti-Semitic incidents. The Anti-Defamation League found that there were 137 verified cases of anti-Semitism in Florida in 2016, up from 91 in the previous year. In that same time, incidents in the state nearly doubled, rising from 61 to 119.

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