Bal Harbour on Wednesday made history when the South Florida municipality became the first of its kind in the United States to pass an ordinance that defines an anti-Semitic hate act.
The ordinance aims to assist police in identifying and processing anti-Semitic crimes, especially when official instructions are not readily available. “Tonight we become the first in the nation to codify the State Department’s 2010 working definition of anti-Semitism,” said Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman.
The mayor added that the rise in anti-Semitic crimes makes the new rules an effective vehicle to tackle the problem. “It’s our role to do something to combat the rise of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Year over year, it’s growing exponentially, and we shouldn’t wait for the federal government, or even the state government, to do something. We can do it at the city levels.”
While Jews total about 2.2 percent of the U.S. population, over half of the religiously motivated hate crimes in America are directed at them, Josh Block, President and CEO of The Israel Project, recently wrote in an essay published in Tablet Magazine. According to FBI statistics, in 2016, out of 1,273 reported religion-based hate crimes, 684 were anti-Jewish with Muslims being the second most-victimized group.
The majority of these crimes are vandalism, not crimes against a person, and that’s where the new rules come into effect. For example, graffiti involving the depiction of a swastika will be treated as a hate crime under the ordinance, instead of simply as vandalism.
The ordinance is already in effect and community leaders hope other municipalities in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. will follow suit. The initiative has received the support from local Democratic and Republican legislators.
“What’s great about this amendment is my hope that similar ordinances can be adopted by cities across the country, so that we can really have a proactive role,” said Sharona Whisler, executive director of the Florida Chapter of the Zionist Organization.
The change in law came weeks after a man was caught on cellphone video shouting anti-Semitic threats outside a synagogue in Surfside, Florida, on Thanksgiving morning.
[Photo: JewsOnTelevision / YouTube]