The ugly incidents started early in the year, then metastasized.
In Parkland, a school bus seat was vandalized with a swastika and an expletive directed at “the Jews.” In Davie, bricks were arranged to form a swastika on a school campus. In Hallandale Beach, an individual altered an image of a neighbor to look like Adolf Hitler, added swastikas and emailed it to the condo association.
In Boca Raton, a student told members of a competing team during a high school basketball game that “Hitler should have finished the job,” antisemitic comments were posted in the chat during a synagogue’s weekly livestream, and a lifeguard stand on a public beach was vandalized with a swastika.
And in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and Surfside, hundreds of zip-close bags were tossed on lawns and driveways containing an antisemitic message that, among other things, blamed Jews for “the Covid agenda.”
Those South Florida incidents, from the early weeks of 2022, were at the beginning of a surge that produced the highest annual number of antisemitic incidents ever recorded in Florida and nationwide in the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. ADL has compiled and verified assaults, harassment and vandalism since 1979.
It was worse in Florida than in the U.S. overall, the third year in a row that the state’s increase outpaced the national increase, Sarah Emmons, ADL’s Florida regional director, said in a video presentation on the report.
The number of antisemitic incidents increased 41.5% in Florida to 269 last year compared to the year before. Florida’s total was more than triple the 76 recorded in 2018.
Nationally, the report showed a 36.1% increase in antisemitic incidents to a total of 3,697 — an average of 10 a day. The U.S. total was almost double the 1,879 recorded four years earlier.
Alison Padilla Goodman, vice president of ADL’s southern division, said in another video conference that 2022 was the third time in the past five years that the annual number hit a record, she said.
And yet, Emmons said, the number of incidents can understate the prevalence of what’s taking place.
The distribution of flyers, for example, is considered one incident — even when they’re distributed to hundreds of people, as is the display of a swastika in a public place, where it may be seen by thousands, are counted as single incidents. The early January 2022 distribution of the antisemitic flyers in baggies in Fort Lauderdale, Surfside and Miami Beach were recorded as three incidents, though the flyers went to hundreds of homes.
Emmons said the Florida numbers are a “devastating statistic” representing “horrendous things that were happening in our community, really across the state of Florida.” In 2022, she said, “many incidents were more bold, more egregious and more attention-grabbing.”
The three South Florida counties, all of which have larger-than-average Jewish populations, had a total of 102 antisemitic incidents, a 38% increase.
But there were some differences. Miami-Dade County saw 47 incidents, an increase of 47% from 2021, and Broward had 35, up 52%.
Palm Beach County, the state’s third largest, saw incidents decline 44% to 20 last year, ADL reported.
“We saw a sharp rise in antisemitic activity outside of South Florida,” Emmons said, fueled by a “significant increase in the distribution of hateful propaganda.”
•Duval County (Jacksonville), 28 incidents, up 833%.
•Hillsborough County (Tampa), 26 incidents, up 333%.
•Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) 21 incidents, up 168%.
•Sarasota County, 21 incidents, up 133%.
•Lee County (Cape Coral and Fort Myers), 6 incidents, up 200%.
Lake County, north and west of Orlando, had seven incidents in 2022; it had none in 2021, ADL said. Adjacent Orange County, home to Orlando, experienced a decline of 25% to 13 incidents last year.
Lonny Wilk, ADL Florida’s deputy director, said a “massive” increase in one category, antisemitic propaganda can be attributed to the “growth of a few very provocative antisemitic and white supremacist groups including in our region, but definitely throughout the country.”
One organization in particular, Emmons said, is responsible for a “particularly prevalent” spread of antisemitic propaganda in Florida. “We know that their propaganda and laser projections have been distributed across the state.”
The laser images involve projections of swastikas in prominent buildings and places. During the University of Florida-University of Georgia football game in October, antisemitic messages were projected outside the stadium in Jacksonville.
Emily Snyder, antisemitic incident specialist for the ADL Center on Extremism, said the projections are a new tactic. It was one of at least seven times last year in Florida, she said.
The use of the images is continuing.
In January 2023, the large image of a swastika was projected on the side of a building in West Palm Beach.
The Florida Legislature is working on a measure (House Bill 269/Senate Bill 994) that would prohibit people from projecting images on buildings without permission. Earlier this month, Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach passed ordinances to prohibit projecting images without the building owner’s consent.
Scope and impact
“It’s frightening and appalling that in this day and age this is what’s going on in our country,” said Nan Rich, a Broward County commissioner and former Florida Senate Democratic leader. Rich is a former national president of the National Council of Jewish Women and former member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.
Speaking on a Moment Magazine video interview before ADL released its report, American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch said there’s growing concern about antisemitism among Jews. Deutch is a former Democratic congressman who represented Broward and Palm Beach counties.
An AJC survey released last month found “41% of Jews in the United States feel less secure about their status as Jews in America than they did a year ago,” a 10 percentage point increase from a year earlier. Deutch said the survey showed 40% of American Jews said they have changed their behavior in public to avoid being identified as Jews.
“It is confirmation what we know, what we feel, what we’re talking about in our community, which is this great uneasiness that grips the community because of rising antisemitism,” he said.
Emmons said celebrities, politicians and other prominent people making or sharing antisemitic comments or tropes “really has a domino effect where others hear this and then act upon those beliefs.”
Many of last year’s incidents were “directly linked to events in the news,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of ADL. "You can see how incidents increased sharply in the fall as we saw celebrities and public figures spewing vile semitism and spreading conspiracy theories to their millions of followers.”
In October, the performing artist and fashion designer Kanye West, who now goes by the name Ye, “promoted antisemitism on a global scale when he made numerous harmful, conspiratorial statements about Jews in a series of social media posts and interviews. Those comments drew on longstanding antisemitic tropes,” ADL’s report said. And he praised Adolf Hitler and disputed fact related to the Holocaust.
West had more followers (30 million) for his since-suspended Twitter account “than there are Jews on the planet” (14.8 million), Snyder said.
The impact of West’s comments was felt across the country and in Florida. From Oct. 11 through the end of the year, 59 incidents nationwide reported by ADL cited West, including several in Florida.
Projected statements mentioned West. In Miami someone wrote “Kanye was right” on the wall of a business. In West Palm Beach a student drew a swastika and wrote “I love Kanye” in chalk at a high school, ADL reported.
AJC has a translate hate program on its website, where people can learn how to ask social media sites to take down antisemitic comments, take a quiz and learn why certain statements contain antisemitic tropes. It’s at ajc.org/translatehate . ADL leaders urged people to report antisemitic incidents to law enforcement when it’s appropriate, and to report it to ADL at ADL.org/report-incident .