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Sen. Gibson Reverses Course On Antisemitism Bill After 'No' Vote; Rep. Fine's Not Buying It

Steve Cannon
AP Photo

It was a vote heard ‘round the legislature this week, when the Senate Minority Leader voted down on a bill looking to add protections from anti-Semitism discrimination in public schools. Senator Audrey Gibson is now walking back comments made in committee.

“I thought it was important that I make some clarifications,” Gibson said at a press conference Wednesday, spurred on by her vote and comments made during debate.

Her ‘no’ vote on a bill prohibiting anti-Semitism in public school, making it consistent with the way the school system treats racial discrimination, was cast in Monday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In debating the bill shortly before voting it down, Gibson expressed concern that Gruters’ bill only pertains to one faith group.

“All religions should be protected – there shouldn’t be one single group of people or group of religions that need to have special protection – we all do,” Gibson said.

The Jacksonville Democrat, who says she is African Methodist Episcopal, asked bill sponsor Senator Joe Gruters’ if members of her family would be covered by the proposed protections.

Gibson: “So other religions don’t need to be specified – every other religion?”

Gruters: “We’d be happy to consider that. This bill specifically deals with anti-Semitism and that’s what this bill was designed to address.”

Gibson went a step further, claiming bill is divisive.

“It’s an intentional piece of legislation to divide. African American churches have been set on fire, Baptist churches have had people shoot in them,” Gibson said. “All manner of religions have been attacked.”

In a statement following the committee meeting, Gibson wrote that the bill “fights the wrong battle, and targets the wrong enemy.” A day later, Gibson has changed her mind on the issue.

“First and foremost, I am not anti-Semitic,” she said to lead off her press conference, at which she was the only speaker.

Gibson blamed the ‘no’ vote on the way Gruters presented the bill.

“Personally, the legislation in the committee was not very well-represented by the bill sponsor,” Gibson said. “It was very confusing.”

Here’s how Gruters characterized the bill moments before the committee vote was recorded Monday:

“All we’re doing is changing the definition of what anti-Semitism means, and it’s the same definition that the State Department and over 50 other countries use, as well as many different organizations. And we would apply it the same way we treat race in our schools right now with discrimination,” Gruters told the committee.

Gibson says she’s since met with a Jewish organization, and will support the bill at future committee stops.

“In my future conversations and future vote, that bill has another committee stop – it has two actually, one in education and one in rules – I’m looking forward to voting for that bill,” Gibson said.

Her reversal of position on the issue doesn’t satisfy the bill’s sponsor in the House, Representative Randy Fine. He’s calling on the Senate Democratic Caucus to “hold Leader Gibson accountable.”

Fine says an apology was notably absent from Gibson’s press conference.  

“I thought tripling down on those divisive comments was terrible. When you cannot apologize for calling fighting anti-Semitism ‘the wrong battle against the wrong enemy’ … So what, anti-Semites aren’t our enemy? It’s terrible,” Fine said.

Fine also takes umbrage with Gibson’s claim that the legislation is ‘confusing.’

“I think she’s trying to cover. But I would say this – it’s our job as legislators to read the bills before we go to committees. To read the staff analyses. It wasn’t a surprise that it was going got be discussed,” Fine said. “And if she’s not interested in reading the bills that come before her, maybe she needs a different job.”

And, in response to Gibson saying she’s met with a Jewish organization and will vote for the bill going forward, Fine had this to say:

“It sounded a lot like saying ‘I have a Jewish friend,’” Fine said.

Gibson, though, insists she is being mischaracterized.

“I am not the person that the media is trying to paint me out to be, nor the House sponsor either,” Gibson said.

Gruters’ anti-Semitism bill will next head to the Senate Education Committee.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.