ST. PETERSBURG — The antisemitic flyers were found in plastic bags — dropped on the front lawns of residences in St. Petersburg’s Central Oak Park neighborhood.
Scores of them were discovered over the weekend, featuring an offensive caricature and a series of questions about Jews, police said. The rhetorical questions were based on common antisemitic myths and stereotypes involving banks, the media and immigration.
Officers collected about 70 of the flyers, and a neighborhood resident told police he disposed of roughly 100 more that he’d collected, St. Petersburg police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said. Police checked for surveillance video in the area, but because no crime was committed in this case, any evidence gathered will be kept on file for future reference, Fernandez said.
The flyers were similar to those previously discovered in other Tampa Bay neighborhoods, as well as other cities in Florida and across the country. Over three consecutive weekends in June, flyers were found in bags of rice near porches and driveways in the Tampa communities of Hyde Park, Beach Park and Davis Islands, police said at the time.
Antisemitism is a prejudice dating back millennia. It’s certainly nothing new in Tampa Bay. And these recent incidents add to a growing list of recent antisemitic actions, both locally and across the country, from sources ranging from obscure groups to some of the country’s most well-known entertainers and athletes.
All of this comes ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, which will decide races as local as school boards all the way up to state governors — including Florida’s — and Congress.
Experts say antisemitic behavior has been increasing over the last two years and has been brought forcefully into the public focus recently by statements from celebrities. Jonathan Ellis, chairperson of the Tampa Jewish Community Relation Council, said he used to hear about an antisemitic flyer or a swastika drawn once every few months. Now he hears of new incidents multiple times a week.
Mike Igel, chairperson of the board for the Florida Holocaust Museum, said he doesn’t know whether a rise in antisemitism will have a large impact on the election, but he hopes it brings people to the polls to vote against hateful speech.
“I think they can sometimes make the bad people feel more empowered,” Igel said. “If it compels a bad person to go to the ballot box and vote improperly, my hope and my belief is that it will galvanize three and four times that of good people to do the same thing, and vote the right way.”
Both Igel and Ellis said antisemitism isn’t a partisan issue. It often is easier to spot among the far right, they both said, but there is just as much antisemitism on the far left, too.
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“This needs to bother everyone,” Igel said.
Last month, Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, suggested on Instagram that Sean Combs, the rapper known as Diddy, was being controlled by Jewish people. Ye then went on Twitter and lashed out at Jewish people in a series of tweets.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing these kinds of tropes and conspiracy theories on the rise across the country, which is all the more troubling because the rise of antisemitic rhetoric is directly linked to the rise in antisemitic violence,” Eric Fingerhut, president and chief executive of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in a statement at the time.
After the Ye episode, at some point during the Oct. 29 football game between the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, the phrase “Kanye is right about the jews” was projected on the outside of one of the end zones at TIAA Bank Field stadium.
And last week, the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets suspended star player Kyrie Irving after he posted a link to an antisemitic film on social media and then initially declined to apologize amid the backlash. After his suspension, Irving issued an apology in an Instagram post.
This year’s incidents come on the heels of a year that saw more than 2,700 antisemitic incidents in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That’s a 34% increase from the prior year and the largest increase since the organization began tracking these incidents in 1979.
Among the policy recommendations in the league’s audit is to “protect democracy” by fighting discriminatory voting laws and supporting laws that protect free and fair elections.
“Antisemitism dusts off and raises up old tropes and conspiracy theories about Jews as the cause of societal problems and then substitutes acts of hatred and discrimination against a dehumanized group rather than seeking to address problems with real solutions,” the audit states. “This is a tried-and-true tool of extremists, who elevate malevolent conspiracies to erode faith in democratic processes and institutions in favor of more authoritarian and often racially, ethnically or religiously homogeneous regimes.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch was among elected officials who condemned the flyers found in his city over the weekend.
“To the individuals who disseminated antisemitic flyers Friday night, we have no room for hate and discrimination in our city,” Welch said in a post on his social media accounts. “Antisemitism is hate at its core. We do not tolerate actions that aim to demean a group of people — my neighbors and yours.”
State Rep. Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg also tweeted about the flyers.
“We all must condemn this growing antisemitism and hate in our community and our State,” Diamond said. “It is appalling and we are better than this.”
In a tweet quoting Diamond’s tweet, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist cited what he called a rise in antisemitic activity and vowed to put an end to “hate and division” if elected governor.
Amid criticism for not responding to the projection during the Gators’ game, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary released a statement Oct. 31 stating that “DeSantis rejects attempts to scapegoat the Jewish community.”