In October, someone spray-painted “Kill Jews” onto a Weston sidewalk during Yom Kippur.
In January, hundreds of fliers were distributed throughout South Florida with the claim that Jewish people were behind the COVID-19 response and included hate speech. At the end of February, a “day of hate” was planned to target the Jewish community in South Florida.
Unfortunately, antisemitism isn’t going anywhere, and to address recent incidents Palm Beach County Mayor Gregg K. Weiss hosted a No Hate in Palm Beach County panel of experts and advocates.
“It scares people because they don’t believe it can happen here, that it can happen to them,” said Alan Poland, community security director of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. “You need to understand and get out of this mindset that it can't happen here.”
The March 2 panel was hosted at the South County Civic Center in Delray Beach and also included panelists from the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Palm Beach County Schools, American Jewish Committee Palm Beach County, Anti-Defamation League Florida, Urban League of Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
And while it feels like there’s an uptick in antisemitism, Patrick Franklin, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, said it’s been here for years. However, what has changed is that the behavior has become accepted and “without any retribution from anyone else because it’s OK.”
“Good people need to stand up and say, ‘I have had enough of this,’” he said. “What I see right now is good people being quiet, sitting on their hands.”
Rand Hoch, the president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, shared that throughout his law career he was constantly referred to as “the New York lawyer.”
“Now, I’ve been to New York a couple of times, but I knew what they were saying and that was a way for them to marginalize me and my law practice and my beliefs. And it wasn’t just one or two cases,” he said. “It’s out there, it’s there every day, and they just want to put us in our place. Our place is along with everyone else’s place in this country.”
And the further we get from the Holocaust, said Laurence Milstein, regional director of the American Jewish Committee Palm Beach County, the less shame there seems to be with antisemitic acts. There are also spikes in discrimination where there’s economic uncertainty.
“We’re living in a society where there’s tremendous distrust of government for many people, conspiracy theories,” he said. “At its core, antisemitism is itself another conspiracy theory.”
There were two solutions to treating the problem: education and law enforcement. Kimberly Coombs is the program planner of Holocaust studies (K-12) for the School District of Palm Beach County and shared that two local Holocaust survivors have shared their story with over 5,000 students. During conversations, she remembers hearing a boy say he was afraid to wear his kippah to school.
“They’re scared because their peers are copying these leaders in our communities,” she said. “Another student that was in a kippah came over to that student and they had a chat about it.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said that tackling antisemitism from his deputies is a two-pronged approach: prevention and enforcement. Unfortunately, he said, with the fliers being handed out earlier they were only able to label it as littering. There’s a fine line, he said, between hate speech and First Amendment rights.
He encouraged the community to report any suspicious activity, no matter how insignificant it seems, as the department is a part of a regional effort to track domestic security.
However, he said he hoped that legislators would enhance penalties to help law enforcement do their jobs. The sheriff also had a message for hate groups: “If they come to Palm Beach County and they stand on the roadside and do what they need to do and inhibit the rights of the people who live here, they’re going to jail. Period.”