Unified. Moving. Inspiring. Those may not be typical words describing a state legislative session, but all were apropos for the start of Florida’s Senate session on Monday.
Agudath Israel of Florida’s executive director, Rabbi Moshe Matz, was invited a few weeks ago by Senator Jason Pizzo, D – Miami Dade County, to give the opening prayer. His appearance on Monday became quite poignant in the aftermath of the weekend shooting in the Chabad shul of Poway, California. In his prayer, Rabbi Matz referenced the tragedy, asking that we “speak loudly and with one voice against the scourge of anti-Semitism.”
The Senators observed a moment of silence for respect and remembrance of those affected by the terror attack in California.
The most memorable event, however, was the unanimous passing of House Bill 741 (HB741), where the House version was approved 114-0 nearly three weeks ago. However, Senate Bill 1272 (SB1272) had not yet passed out of committee. In response to the California attack, the Senators voted by a two-thirds majority to waive the rules and take up the House version, bringing it straight to the floor for a vote. The bill was approved 40-0 and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.
The bill adds discrimination based on religion to the list of what is prohibited in Florida schools. The bill defines anti-Semitic speech as expressing hatred of Jews, criticizing the power of the Jewish community, accusing Jewish people or Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
Discrimination includes using classic anti-Semitic symbols and images to demonize Israel or Israelis, and comparing Israeli policies to Nazi Germany.
HB741 also requires public schools to treat discrimination against Jewish people the same as other acts of racial discrimination.
During debate, a number of Senators rose to express encouragement to the Jewish community. “Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and we have the ability to do something about it,” said Senator Gruters. Senator Annette Taddeo emphasized the need to do good in the face of hatred, adding that the Senate was “doing a mitzvah.” And Senator Pizzo noted that it was “rather serendipitous” that Rabbi Matz was there that day.
Agudath Israel supported the bill from the beginning and is gratified to see its unanimous passing. “We are happy to see the State of Florida make a unified statement and react proactively to the rise of overt anti-Semitism,” says Rabbi Matz.