INTERVIEW: ‘We Said Never Again … Yet Here We Are Again’

By Reuvain Borchardt

Florida State Rep. Mike Caruso

Florida State Representative Mike Caruso, a supporter of Israel and the Jewish community who has sponsored several bills related to antisemitism, speaks with Hamodia about campus protests, antisemitism, and the Sunshine State.

Caruso, whose district covers a portion of Palm Beach, worked as a CPA before being elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2018. A native of the Washington, DC, area who has lived in Florida for nearly four decades, Caruso has a BBA in Accounting from George Washington University, and was the 2017 National Men’s IV Barefoot Water-Skiing Silver Medalist.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m 65, I grew up in the Vietnam era, and I remember the sit-ins and the protesting that took place back then. And back then the anger was against the United States government for being involved in Vietnam. Now, not only do you see anger against the U.S. government, but hate of Jewish students and Jewish teachers, and hate of the entire race. 

It’s a tragedy. It just doesn’t make sense.

At campuses, they’re shouting “river to the sea.” At Harvard we saw them tear down the American flag and put up the Palestinian flag. At my alma mater, George Washington University, which was mostly Jewish when I went, they’re calling for the “final solution.” That’s disgusting. And Columbia has been the headliner. They were shouting, “We are Hamas,” antagonizing Jewish students, locking out Jewish teachers, taking over buildings and detaining maintenance men. At UCLA, they had a brawl, an all-out fight between pro- and anti-Israel demonstrators.

You look at all those states, and I gotta blame all those universities, I gotta blame the university presidents, the Board of Trustees, the governors, their legislatures, and the Biden administration for the lack of condemnation. Without a quick call for law and order, things only get worse, and out of hand. We’ve seen what’s played out. What do they say — a fire that goes unchecked only burns hotter. And we don’t let that happen in Florida. When they tied up the bridge in Miami—we have a law in Florida that says it’s a felony to impede traffic—so in 10 minutes, police showed up, and within 15 minutes the road was reopened. And we shut the protest down. 

In the University of Florida, we’ve got leadership there with the new president and the Board of Trustees, and we don’t put up with that. We have an obligation, and we carry it out, to provide a safe learning environment for all students, including and especially Jewish students whonow really have a very present fear that’s warranted. 

All these students should be able to attend class without threat or fear of reprisal or physical harm. And we provide that environment in Florida because we establish laws before this stuff comes up. And it’s just shameful what you see going on out there. 

Orlando Police Department officers patrolling a pro-Palestinian demonstration last Saturday. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel via AP)

I passed HB 269—when you carry out certain acts that are normally misdemeanors, if you say or project or spray paint certain things, like when you call for or justify the killing or harming of Jews, or genocide, or make dehumanizing or stereotypical allegations about Jews or Jewish conspiracies or say that Jews control all the media or the economy or government or whatever, then it becomes a third-degree felony punishable by five years in prison.

I guess primarily that my wife is Jewish. 

I grew up in Maryland, in a very liberal area. My best friend growing up was Johnny Goldberg. My best man was Jewish. I went to George Washington University, and a lot of the student population there was Jewish.

Even though I had friends growing up who were Jewish, I never saw antisemitism — I might have seen it but did not realize it — until I met my wife. And then I’d see the subtleties. And I’d watch the pain that she would suffer when somebody would say something.

I remember when we were buying a house in Delray Beach, I told the realtor, “We’ll take it, let’s go write it up.” And as we walk back into the house from the backyard, he says, “And don’t worry, there are no Jews or blacks in this neighborhood.” And I said, “Wow. I need to reintroduce you to my wife — Tracy Stein Caruso. I’ll tell you what we’re going to do: We’re going to buy this house, we’re going to go inside and call your broker, we’re going to have him come out here, and you are going to leave once he gets here and I’m going to write up a contract with him. If I find out you got one dime from this contract, I will make sure I have your license.” 

It was disgusting. And I saw it a lot. And that’s what motivates me. It’s got to stop. 

I wrote HB 269 in 2022. It passed in 2023, and Gov. DeSantis signed the bill in Jerusalem. I went out there with him. Back then we had the Goyim Defense League [a neo-Nazi group that has held demonstrations in Jewish areas, including Florida]. They were projecting swastikas on buildings. They were desecrating Jewish cemeteries, they were putting antisemitic fliers in baggies and throwing them in Jewish neighborhoods. In Surfside, they were harassing moms walking their kids to shul, impeding their right  of way. 

That’s what the environment was back then. And so I wrote this bill, and we got it passed, and I remember giving the speech on the House floor. I said, “When we said never again, we meant never again. But yet here we are again.” And today, as a country, here we are again, even worse.

Caruso (R) meeting with Florida Jewish leaders.

It’s both. 

But the grownups are running the show in Florida, and it looks like the kids are running the show everywhere else.

I can’t call for violence. Let’s just say I understand their frustration, but I can’t call for violence. 

I think that they need to address this situation differently. 

Yes. And in the public schools, the governor. All of them are just as responsible. The governor can go into UCLA and bring in the Guard or the police, and whatever level he needs to do it, it’s his job to make sure that all kids can have access to their classes and be able to attend classes in a safe learning environment. And that’s why I say I blame the trustees, I blame the presidents of these universities, I blame the governor, the attorneys general of the states. And I just know that here in Florida, we don’t put up with that for a minute. And you see what happened in Miami, and the University of Florida — the moment it happened, it gets shut down.

Universities have the right to create their own rules, and even Columbia did. Our college campuses have been a place for protests for a long time, but protests need to follow the rules of civil discourse, and not breaking down barriers, destroying property, invading buildings, preventing people from getting to class, things like that.

Making an encampment is against the  rules of the university. You can’t pitch a tent on campus.

But what they’re finding out is, because they’ve allowed the students to escalate their protests to a different level, it just opens the door for outsiders to come in. And I understand that nearly half of the protesters who were arrested are non-students; they’ve even found guns and knives and Mace. And you see the tents are all the same; some of the non-students are getting paid, and I’m sure they’re funded by dark sources, and at some point it’s no longer free speech.

Caruso (R) with Florida House Speaker Paul Renner. (Office of Rep. Caruso)

I think he’s letting the tail wag the dog. And he might win Michigan in the end as a result of his position, but I think he’ll lose all the other swing states in the country as a result. I don’t know a lot of people that condone his position, and condone the behavior that’s going on on our campuses — Democrats and Republicans. My Democratic colleagues are as concerned for my safety as my Republican colleagues. They don’t want this to come to Florida. Nobody does. So I don’t know what small part of his base he’s trying to finesse, but it’s certainly not going to help them in the election in the long run. And I think you see it in the declining numbers he’s got. Every other week, his numbers go down, and Trump’s go up, and RFK Jr.’s go up.

Caruso (3rd R) meeting with Florida Jewish leaders.

I think a big reason would be the way we dealt with COVID. We kept our state open for business, and encouraged people to get outside and not be cooped up in their homes. Fortunately, we’ve got great weather, you can go outside anytime of the year, to the beach or the lake, all the parks we have here or wherever you want to go. Our stores were open. 

For a time we mandated that you wear a mask, and once we realized that masks don’t do anything, we took away that mandate. And the governor really led the way. So that kind of put us on the map. Our economy was on steroids then. And then we started passing laws that dealt with law and order. We passed an anti-riot bill; we passed this bill that prohibits interference with traffic. We passed antisemitism bills, hate-crime bills. We’re a common sense state. With the insanity that’s going on in New York City, throughout the country and the world, open immigration, we don’t tolerate any of that.

And we really put a lot of effort and thought and money into education. For example, we haven’t raised tuition at our colleges or universities in the last 11 years. You can get a four-year degree at a state university here in Florida for $30,000 total. You can’t do that anywhere else in the country. And because we’ve done that, we’ve attracted a significant amount of brain power to the state, and once they get here, they stay here. And then what follows is the corporations that want to utilize that intellect.

Every year we go into the Florida Legislature and reduce taxes across the board. And every other state seems to be just trying their best to run people out of town. New York with its immigration issues, its lawlessness, its inability to fight crime, its overregulation, its traffic, its weather — some things they can’t control but some things they can. They chase people out of town; we attract them. And I think we’re the magnet for good people who want to come down here and work and play and live and enjoy life. 

Oh, I’m all in on President Trump. The moment that the governor suspended his campaign, I immediately endorsed the president. And I see him often at Mar-a-Lago. I probably saw him four times in the last three weeks at Mar-a-Lago. He  knows where I am and why I had to do it. And he’s all in behind me too.

I think they’re mending their relationship.

Both of them are doing the right thing to bring the party together. This election is critical, unlike anything that I’ve seen. Another four years of Biden, I don’t know what the world’s going to be like. We as a party need to get behind and support the candidate. That’s President Trump.

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