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Fight against antisemitism in SWFL draws crowd to grassroots meeting in Bonita Springs

Cary Barbor
Citizens met at the Bonita Springs Public Library this week.

About 100 people gathered at the Bonita Springs Public Library this week to discuss the increasing threat and presence of antisemitism in Southwest Florida. It was organized by Bonita Springs residents who have no affiliation other than mutual concern for safety in the community,

Liz Matt of Bonita Springs displayed some examples of public antisemitism from the past year — flyers distributed around Fort Myers including on windshields at Coconut Point and Miromar Outlets, a swastika on an overpass in Orlando, and antisemitic remarks projected onto a football stadium in Jacksonville.

Matt went on to say that Florida has no law against these offenses. In that regard, Representative Mike Caruso of the Palm Beach area appeared by videoconference. Caruso recently introduced a billinto the Florida legislature that would make these hate-filled acts a 3rd-degree felony.

Matt went on to say that she had requested help from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office but that a sheriff’s deputy told her they couldn’t help.

“As soon as he found out that we wanted to discuss Nazis as a menace, he said ‘We can’t do anything about that. We can’t participate in that,’" Matt said. "And I was dumbfounded and he said, ‘Well; you’re asking me to pick sides.’ As though being a Nazi was an opinion group.”

The Lee County Sheriff’s Department could not confirm or deny this conversation.

Deborah Fidel, Executive Director of Temple Shalomin Naples also spoke, saying that the expressions of antisemitism she sees in the community are no longer behind people’s backs or under the radar.

“It is brash, it is loud, and there’s no shame. The kids think it’s funny. They think it’s cool," Fidel said. "There’s no sense that they’re crossing a line anymore. And in my opinion, when it becomes normalized in the public discourse from our leaders, it becomes normalized in society and among our children.”

Attendees were encouraged to take actions such as supporting anti-bias legislation and education, condemning hatred in leaders, and protecting free and fair elections. Matt says the group intends to continue to fight the threat.

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