ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — A Pinellas County synagogue was the target of a bomb threat Sunday evening. Now the City of St. Petersburg is taking a stand.
Antisemitism in St. Pete is something Rabbi Philip Weintraub experienced just this week.
“As we were completing the service, we walked out into the lobby and found a sea of police officers who had arrived because of a bomb threat to our community,” he said.
City council took action Thursday, adopting a resolution establishing the definition of antisemitism.
The definition city council members voted to accept reads as follows:
It’s a definition St. Petersburg resident David Mokotoff knows far too well.
“Most recently when a neighbor who has a little free library box showed me some literature which was hateful toward Jews and made some sweeping statements and photographs,” he explained.
Mokotoff told 8 On Your Side as adamantly as he feels about antisemitism, he’s also a strong proponent of freedom of speech.
“On one hand, if someone should have the ability to say—even though it’s false and ridiculous—that the Jews control the banks, Hollywood and Disney, even though you can prove them wrong, that’s freedom of speech,” he explained. “But if they put out a flyer to you or make a blanket statement on social media, ‘we’re coming for all the Jews’ and ‘we’re going to put you in the gas chambers again,’ obviously that’s hate speech that’s trying to incite people.”
We spoke with Florida Holocaust Museum Board Chair Michael Igel to get his take on St. Petersburg’s new resolution.
Both of his grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust.
Igel said adopting this resolution sends a message to the Jewish community in St. Petersburg that the city is taking the threat of antisemitism seriously.
“It’s really a statement for the City of St. Petersburg, saying we are not going to be accepting of bigotry,” he said.
Many of the people who stood in support of the motion told 8 On Your Side fighting antisemitism all starts with education.
“It gives leadership and all of us the tools to recognize antisemitism,” Igel said. “In order to solve something and fix something, you have to know what it looks like, what it is and how it’s defined.”
The resolution faced criticism from council member John Muhammad.
“We have to protect the rights of those who have unpopular or controversial views within the bounds of civility, as long as they are not explicitly advocating for discrimination, persecution, hurt, harm or danger to members of the Jewish community,” he said.
Muhammad walked out of the room before the resolution was voted on.
Rabbi Alter Korf hosted a program called ‘Navigating Hate’ back in December. The goal of the program was to address antisemitism. Now, nine months later, he’s speaking on the subject again.
“[The resolution] doesn’t have immediate legal ramifications, but everything starts with education,” he said.
The motion passed Thursday, just in time for Jewish new year.
“On Rosh Hashanah, we’re going to sound the shofar,” Rabbi Korf said. “I encourage the Jewish community to rally together.”
“If there’s antisemitism, we have to highlight the prosemitism,” he continued. “We have to come together, stand together and be proud of who we are [and] not allow the antisemitism to cower us.”
He concluded the interview by blowing a shofar.
You can read the full resolution below.