Last night, Bal Harbour, a municipality in South Florida, became the first government body in the United States to adopt a definition of Anti-Semitism into their laws. The ordinance unanimously passed its first reading in late November, where LDB’s Director of Legal Initiatives Aviva Vogelstein testified in its support. The ordinance went into effect last night after another unanimous vote by the Council at its second reading.
Efforts to pass this bill were spearheaded by Mayor Gabriel Groisman. Bal Harbour, under Mayor Groisman’s leadership, had previously been the first municipality in the United States to pass an anti-BDS ordinance. The passage of this new legislation will further cement Bal Harbour’s role as a leader in the fight against bigotry and hatred in all its forms.
The bill, dubbed the “Anti-Semitism Definition Act,” will simply add the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism into the Bal Harbour Village Code as a tool for law enforcement. By utilizing the U.S. Department of State’s definition, law enforcement officers will be able to properly evaluate anti-Semitic intent behind criminal actions, and as such ensure appropriate treatment of such incidents.
As anti-Semitism is seeing a resurgence in the United States, such legislation is becoming all the more necessary. According to FBI data, Jewish hate crime victims outnumbered victims of all other religious groups combined in 2016. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has recorded 1,299 anti-Semitic incidents in the first 3 quarters of 2017, in comparison to 779 during the same period in 2016. The need for legislation which helps enforce laws which protect Jewish Americans from anti-Semitic attacks is apparent. This need has spurred action on this issue in every level of American government. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, federal legislation which incorporated the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, passed the Senate by unanimous, bipartisan consent last December. Although there was not enough time to vote in the House before the winter recess, the House Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing on the bill, and it is expected to be re-introduced. In terms of state governments, South Carolina is expected to be the first state to pass Anti-Semitism Awareness legislation soon.
Various other countries and international bodies – including the governments of the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Germany, and Romania – have recently adopted substantially the same definition as that of the U.S. Department of State, that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Bal Harbour’s victory demonstrates the willingness of communities to begin putting an end to the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, and will set a strong precedent for other municipalities, as well as state governments and the federal government, to follow.