A wave of antisemitic attacks has broken out in communities across the country over the last month or so. Officials in law enforcement and government are coming together to confront the attacks, many of which were apparently tied to the outbreak in violence between Israel and Hamas.
More than 1,200 people participated in a Tuesday town hall briefing on antisemitism organized by seven Florida Jewish federations, including the Tampa Jewish Community Centers & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.
Participants were encouraged to post on social media and to demand action from Congress to address the threat of all forms of antisemitism and other types of hate.
They also heard from a number of local religious, political, and law enforcement officials.
“My feelings on the subject are formed not so much by my experience as a prosecutor, but as a Jewish American, a citizen, a father, and an elected leader,” Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said.
“It was 35 years ago, but I vividly remember being just a boy and going to High Holiday services in Gainesville to see that swastikas had been painted on the walls of the synagogue. I can still feel that fear.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Florida saw 127 reports of antisemitic harassment or vandalism last year — the fourth most in the U.S. — and a 40 percent spike from 2019.
Last month, the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg was defaced with a swastika and graffiti that read “The Jews are guilty.”
“This is not a joke. And it should not and will not be tolerated in our city, in our state, or in our country,” St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway said. “We’re working with our local, state and federal partners to investigate this crime.”
The incident is being treated as a hate crime.
A week ago, people of all creeds gathered in front of the Museum for a “Unite Against Hate” rally. Speakers told stories of struggle and pain, and called upon people to work together to spread peace, love, and unity.
Officials at Tuesday’s town hall said such unity events, in addition to more education campaigns, are crucial in combating hate.
“My 10 year old has been learning about the Holocaust, and she asks whether antisemitism still exists. And when I answer her, I feel the anguish that many of us know when you have to admit to your child that yes, it does,” Warren said.
“America is supposed to be different. We are a beacon of light and freedom and tolerance of the world, not because of divine intervention, but because of human action and our commitment to fight for freedom.”
State and local politicians, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Congressman Vern Buchanan, Rep. Fiona McFarland, Rep. Ben Diamond and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, also expressed support for Florida’s Jewish community.
“It is important that more elected officials at every level of government address this scourge. Hate and hate groups have no place in our society,” Bilirakis said. “The fact that antisemitic attacks are on the rise in the United States, a nation founded on the principles of freedom, liberty and justice is alarming and wholly unacceptable.”
“The recent defacing of the Florida Holocaust Museum shows that we have fallen short. Hopefully, through events like this, we can raise awareness and policy considerations to ensure we do not perpetuate failures from the past.”