Florida representative introduces bill aimed at targeting hate crimes after reports of anti-Semitic incidents

As people remember the horrors of the Holocaust on International Holocaust Remembrance Day Friday, anti-Semitism continues to be a major concern, prompting a Florida state representative to introduce a bill targeting hate crimes.

State Representative Mike Caruso, R-Palm Beach, introduced House Bill 269 ahead of Florida’s legislative session, after seeing reports of anti-Semitic incidents across Florida. 

"We've seen anti-Semitism on the rise for the past five years," said Caruso, who represents District 87. "We've seen in the CSX building in Jacksonville the projection of swastikas on the building. And even three blocks from my own home in West Palm Beach, the projection of swastikas and hate messages, anti-Semitic hate messages on the AT&T building." 

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He added that there were also anti-Semitic pamphlets distributed in Jewish neighborhoods in Boca Raton and on cars in West Palm Beach.

Caruso’s proposed bill would target those kinds of acts, making them hate crimes that would be a third-degree felony. The bill focuses on acts like littering, harassment and stalking, and vandalism. 

"My bill takes away no First Amendment rights. It just says if you're putting out this kind of behavior, this kind of speech or this kind of presentation on pamphlets or on projected on the walls, and you're doing it in combination with another crime, then it becomes a hate crime," said Caruso.

The Florida Holocaust Museum’s board chair said it’s a move he supports to show Florida stands against hate. The museum opened its door for free to museum visitors Friday to educate them about the Holocaust.

"I often say that Holocaust Remembrance Day is every day to people like me. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors," said Michael Igel, the board chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. "But it’s one where I think we take even some extra time to really think about the lessons, think about the victims, think about the survivors."

While decades now separate that moment in history, hate and anti-Semitism has not gone away. The FBI released its 2021 hate crime statistics in December, finding 64 percent of victims were targeted because of their race, ethnicity or ancestry and nearly 32 percent of religious-related incidents were anti-Jewish. 

"It’s like my grandparents would say they used to teach my brother and me, this was the worst in people, but you must teach people that it was also the best in people," said Igel, who spends time educating students about the Holocaust. "I’m alive because people did the right thing, people who didn’t have to."

Igel said the proposed law is a galvanizing moment against bigotry, one he believes his grandparents would be proud of.

"I know they would look at this and say, one of the causes of the Holocaust, it was state sponsored genocide. So, this is the opposite of that. This is a legislature stepping up and saying no," said Igel.