Bal Harbour is a small Florida town that is popular with snowbirds. With a population of approximately 3,000 to 8,000, depending on the time of the year, you’d expect this beachfront village, 30 minutes north of Miami, to concern itself only with pleasing tourists and maintaining an adequate supply of sunscreen. But after tonight’s Village Council meeting, Bal Harbour may be the new national standard in defining and combating anti-Semitism.
In 2015, the Village Council passed an ordinance “prohibiting the Village from entering into agreements with businesses that boycott a person or entity based in or doing business with an Open Trade Jurisdiction such as Israel, and requiring businesses to pledge not to engage in such a boycott during agreements with the Village.” At the time, Bal Harbour was following the lead of states such as South Carolina and Illinois, which passed anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) legislation that forbids the state to engage with or invest in entities that boycott the Jewish state.
Two years later, nearly half the states in the union have passed anti-BDS measures, a number that is expected to greatly increase in the coming year. But while debate exists on the inherently anti-Semitic nature of BDS, defining anti-Semitism has become an issue currently being taken up by Congress and states such as South Carolina; and Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman isn’t waiting for other government bodies to act.
“As a local municipality we can do things more efficiently and faster than a state or federal bureaucracy,” Groisman explained to the Haym Salomon Center. “Anti-Semitism in our country is growing at an alarming rate. What is right can’t wait for state and federal politicians to act. That is why I have proposed this measure and hope other towns and cities will follow our lead.”
Unofficially referred to as the “Anti-Semitism Definition Act,” the measure, if adopted, will create a village code that will permit law enforcement to consider anti-Semitism as a “motivation for criminal offenses in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its Jewish community.” The bill also adopts the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism and directs the police department to consider this definition when investigating crimes, consistent with the federal and state hate crime statutes.
Groisman, who was elected mayor last year, has voiced in the past his concerns about rising anti-Semitism. In August he stated in an op-ed:
A clear look at today’s political landscape shows the resurgence of anti-Semitism on both sides of the political spectrum. On one side, there is the “progressive” movement’s aggressive and anti-Semitic support of boycotts of Israel, often revealing that anti-Zionism is a thin veil for classic anti-Semitism. On the other side, we saw that the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was filled with Nazis and white supremacists. None of this is new.
Joseph Sabag, executive director of the Israel Allies Foundation, an organization that works with elected officials on issues related to anti-Semitism and the Middle East, sees Groisman as a leader in combating anti-Semitism.
“With anti-Semitism rising in the United States and around the world, we need leaders on the local level who can be emulated by other mayors and local officials, who will realize they don’t have to wait for higher levels of government to act,” Sabag said. “Adopting the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism should be a no-brainer for states, municipalities and college campuses. Israel Allies applauds Mayor Groisman’s leadership and can only hope others will follow his example.”
When asked about free speech concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and various academics over anti-BDS measures and the State Department’s anti-Semitism definition, Groisman said he would never support legislation that impeded free speech and that this proposed measure — or any anti-BDS laws currently in effect — go out of their way to protect First Amendment rights.
On Tuesday afternoon, Groisman and the Village Council received a letter supporting the measure from Florida congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-26).
Curbelo wrote in part:
The increased presence of anti-Semitism around the world has caused Jewish communities everywhere to be on high alert. It is time we take a tougher stand on anti-Semitism at all levels of government. I am proud that Florida’s own Bal Harbour Village will play a leading role in this critical effort.
Tonight’s Bal Harbor Village Council meeting can be viewed live beginning at 7:00 p.m. EST.
*Update: A packed hall of over 100 area residents attended Tuesday evening’s Village Council meeting to support the proposed measure. According to Mayor Groisman, no dissenting voices made their presence known. The Bal Harbour officials unanimously passed the bill by a 5 – 0 vote. A mandatory second reading of the legislation will take place on December 13. At that time, the bill is expected to become law.