TALLAHASSEE — Sparked by a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Florida and globally, seven Jewish federations Tuesday drew together U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders to condemn prejudice and urge better understanding.
The online town hall took place only a little over a week since the Florida Holocaust Museum in downtown St. Petersburg was defaced with anti-Jewish graffiti. Clashes between Israeli defense forces and Palestinian-supported Hamas also have spawned assaults on individuals and attacks on Jewish institutions across the country.
Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said he took part in a recent rally supporting the museum and condemning what he called “that hateful act.”
Quoting a Holocaust survivor, Diamond said. “There are three things that we can be doing to counteract prejudice and anti-Semitism and hatred. And those three things are education, education and education.”
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While anti-Semitic incidents rose by 40% last year in Florida – with 127 events cited around the state by the Anti-Defamation League – Randon Carvel, president of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee said those numbers have spiked lately.
“There has been an 80% increase in reported anti-Semitic activities in the United States during this past month alone,” Carvel said. “While there are some who will conflate this with the situation in Israel…the reality is the conflict is only an excuse for centuries-old anti-Semitism.”
The town hall, which drew 1,200 viewers according to organizers, was put together by Florida Jewish federations stretching along the Gulf Coast and also Orlando.
Lawmakers attending the event cited an array of legislative steps approved in Florida over the past few years that are aimed at blunting anti-Semitism, including defining such prejudice and banning what could be considered anti-Jewish discrimination in schools and universities.
But DeSantis, who led a trade mission to Israel in 2019, said more work is still needed.
“We have to deal with anti-Semitism,” DeSantis said. “If we look back 20 years ago, I think anti-Semitism is worse today than it was, which is really incredible we’d be seeing that.”
He said, “We’ve got to go on offense.”