Florida continues to feel the impacts of Hamas’ attacks via spike in antisemitism | Opinion

The Anti-Defamation League recently released our nationwide 2023 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. The data tells a troubling story of rising antisemitism throughout our country and here in Florida.

Here’s what the audit found:

We saw a massive increase in antisemitic incidents nationally in 2023, with reported incidents numbering 8,873 — an increase of 140% compared to the 3,717 incidents reported in 2022, which was also a record-setting year.

This amounts to a shocking average of 24 incidents per day or one per hour.

Here in Florida, we also broke records with 463 incidents, which represented a dramatic 72% increase in antisemitic incidents from 2022.

This included 376 incidents of harassment, 82 incidents of vandalism, and, most disturbingly, seven assaults.

Again, this year, Florida had the fourth-highest quantity in the nation, behind only California, New York and New Jersey.

The Florida counties with the most reported incidents were: Palm Beach (84), Miami-Dade (62), Broward (55), Orange (39), Hillsborough (33), Pinellas (28), Duval (24), and Sarasota (16).

Antisemitic incidents sharply rose after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. In just the three months that followed that date, Florida saw 245 incidents, exceeding the total number of incidents that occurred in the prior nine months (218) and reaching almost as many incidents as recorded in all of 2022 (269).

Before Oct. 7, the ADL Florida team was feeling hopeful that antisemitic and extremist incidents were declining, especially with the May 2023 passage of House Bill 269 — decisive state legislation that addresses public nuisances, including the distribution of hateful propaganda on private properties, as well as other measures against public intimidation, harassment and threats against a person based on their religious or ethnic heritage.

In fact, after the legislation went into effect on May 1, extremist-related activity significantly decreased in Florida, while other states continued to see a proliferation of antisemitic fliers and banner drops.

Sadly, while this type of extremist activity by white supremacist groups declined following the passage of legislation targeting their hateful tactics, the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas terrorists and the resulting war in Gaza motivated the rise of other forms of antisemitism, which has included anti-Zionist vandalism, harassment and assault.

Colleges and universities were hit especially hard by increased antisemitism after Oct. 7.

Antisemitic incidents on school campuses across the country skyrocketed to 922 last year, a 321% increase over the previous year, mostly occurring in the last quarter of 2023.

Statistics about growing antisemitism alone do not convey the impact of hate on communities. When dozens of antisemites march with swastikas in Florida’s streets, when almost 90 synagogues around the state are swatted and receive bomb threats, when a pro-Palestinian demonstration includes signage that reads, “Florida to Gaza, intifada, intifada,” the impact is the intimidation and harassment of the entire Jewish community.

The shocking rise in antisemitic incidents last year highlights a crisis for our country and for our state.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. This information, instead, can inspire a new chapter — one that brings together people of good faith to resist the hate we see around us.

Our political leaders can speak up against antisemitism — not only when members of the other party are to blame but also when efforts to foment antisemitism bubble up in their own parties.

Parents and teachers can educate children against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry, impacting hearts and minds before biased attitudes escalate into acts of bullying or violence. And law enforcement can tap into resources to investigate and apprehend individuals who target others because of who they are.

Antisemites and haters use their voices loudly. No matter how offensive their words may be, their freedom of expression is generally and rightfully protected. But free speech belongs to everyone else, too. Allies, whether individuals, companies, universities or faith organizations, can and should stand shoulder-to-shoulder in speaking out against all forms of hate.

This can be a turning point, but only if we maintain hope for a better future and believe in the power of everyone to act as an ally and advocate. Let’s get to work.

Sarah Emmons is the Anti-Defamation League’s Florida Regional Director.