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Bal Harbour Expands Police Power to Investigate Anti-Semitism

by Elizabeth Koh | Dec 14, 2017

The Bal Harbour Village Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to pass an anti-Semitism ordinance that expands police officers’ ability to investigate such incidents as hate crimes. The ordinance is the first of its kind for a municipality in the country, village officials said.

The ordinance, which took effect immediately, allows officers to consider whether a crime had anti-Semitic motivations, and if so, to investigate it as a violation of the ordinance in addition to state and federal laws, said Mayor Gabriel Groisman, who pushed the measure.

“There’s no codified definition of anti-Semitism,” Groisman said before the ordinance was passed 5-0 Tuesday. “Police departments across the country and law enforcement have a really hard time investigating hate crimes.”

The law directs officers to the State Department’s 2010 definition of anti-Semitism but allows discretion in determining whether a crime qualifies as a hate incident.

The law “doesn’t draw the difficult line of where a crime becomes a hate crime,” said Groisman. “It gives the police the tools to investigate any of these items, any of these incidents, and it explicitly says it shouldn’t infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights.”

The mayor said the seaside village of under 3,000 has not seen anti-Semitic incidents “as of late,” though the area has a history of discrimination against its Jewish community. For 36 years, the then-exclusive and storied Bal Harbour Club barred African Americans and Jews from joining, until a $10 million discrimination suit prompted the club to relax those barriers in 1982.

But anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in nearby municipalities, including a man arrested last month after shouting anti-Semitic remarks in Surfside and swastika graffiti spray-painted near the MacArthur Causeway in August. Jewish-owned businesses in Wynwood were hit with graffiti displaying the letters BDS in January, referencing the international boycott of Israel.

South Carolina legislators considered a similar bill defining anti-Semitism on college campuses earlier this year, though it stalled at the end of the legislative session. Bal Harbour’s proposal, which drew letters of support from U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is the first by a municipality that codifies a definition of anti-Semitism.

Groisman had written and supported a similar ordinance that barred the village from contracting with any businesses engaged in anti-Israel boycotts when he was a councilman in 2015. He said the new ordinance should send a signal to other cities and states. Miami Beach, Surfside and Sunny Isles Beach are already considering similar measures.

“I’m certain that this will have an effect both locally in Florida and nationally,” he said.

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