TALLAHASSEE -- Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson pushed back against claims that she was anti-Semitic, telling reporters Wednesday that she is “a champion for all people, all races and all religions.”
Gibson came under fire earlier this week for opposing a bill that would require schools and colleges to address allegations of anti-Semitism in the same way they address racism.
“I am not that person that the media is trying to make me out to be,” the Jacksonville Democrat said at a news conference Wednesday. “There’s a lot of misinformation and seemingly deliberate efforts to try and paint me into a corner and paint me as someone that I am not.”
She did not take questions from reporters.
The bill, which came up in a Senate Judiciary committee hearing Monday, would require that schools address anti-Semitic behavior the same way they address racial discrimination. The proposal defines anti-Semitic behavior as “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.”
Gibson, the lone “no” vote on the bill, said she thought it was “an intentional piece of legislation to divide.” She later clarified her stance in a statement, saying the legislation is well-intentioned, but “fights the wrong battle.”
Some Republicans compared Gibson’s vote to congressional Democrats Ihlan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who have drawn ire over criticism of Israel.
Rep. Randy Fine, a Jewish Republican and House bill sponsor said: “It is sad that in the world propagated by Washington Democrats like Congresswomen Ihlan Omar and Rashida Tlaib and Tallahassee Democrats like Audrey Gibson, fighting anti-Semitism is ‘divisive.’ ”
Gibson said in the press conference that the legislation was not well-represented by bill sponsor Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and was “very confusing.” She said she will vote for the bill in the future.
In a later statement, Fine called Gibson’s press conference “disingenuous,” and said she should have apologized instead of “tripling down.”
“All I know is this — I’m awfully glad she’s not my leader,” he tweeted.
When the bill was presented on the House floor later Wednesday afternoon, Reps. Richard Stark and Joe Geller, both Jewish Democrats from South Florida, asked Fine if the bill has any cause for First Amendment concerns.
Fine said it does not but said speech is restricted on college campuses when it comes to racial slurs and other overtly racist acts. Anti-Semitic language would be treated the same way, he said.
“That is speech,” Fine said. “It’s terrible speech, but it’s speech.”
The controversy surrounding Gibson coincided with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Tuesday announcement that the next Florida Cabinet meeting would take place at the U.S. embassy in Israel during a weeklong trip to the Jewish state at the end of May. On the the campaign trail, DeSantis prided himself on becoming America’s most pro-Israel governor.
“That’ll be a historic meeting,” he said Tuesday during an appearance at Plantation’s Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El.