After becoming the only lawmaker to vote against a bill targeting anti-Semitism, state Sen. Audrey Gibson held a press conference on Wednesday to clarify her position.
“First and foremost, I am not anti-Semitic. Period. And I rebuke anti-Semitism and all religious discrimination. Period,” said Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who is the leader of the Senate’s 17-member Democratic caucus.
“I have spent my entire career working on behalf of people who have been marginalized…. It was never my intent to insult in any way the Jewish community or my Jewish colleagues. And for that I am making sure that that message gets out today,” she said. “I am not that person that insults anyone. I am a champion for all people, all races and all religions.”
Earlier this week in the Judiciary Committee, Gibson cast the only no vote against a bill (SB 1272) that would require public schools and colleges to treat incidents of anti-Semitism in the same manner as incidents of racial discrimination.
In the committee hearing, Gibson said the bill would create “divisiveness” and described it as “an intentional piece of legislation to divide.”
That brought an immediate rebuke from state Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who is sponsoring the House version of the legislation (HB 741). His bill, which has won unanimous approval in a series of House committee votes, was scheduled for a preliminary review on the House floor on Wednesday.
“Fighting anti-Semitism is something that used to bring all Floridians together,” Fine said in a statement. “But it is comments like these by the Democratic leader of the Senate that creates divisiveness — not legislation that will reduce it.”
On Wednesday, Gibson rejected Fine’s criticism.
“He doesn’t know me. He has never talked to me. And he doesn’t know my heart,” Gibson said. “As an African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”
Gibson said there was “confusing” information provided on the Senate bill in the Judiciary Committee hearing. And she said her opposition was based on her effort to make sure “all religions were protected.”
But she said after discussions with Jewish advocacy groups and her Jewish colleagues, she will support the bill in future votes. She will get another chance to vote on the bill when it reaches the Senate Rules Committee.
The controversy has raised questions about Gibson’s continuing role as the leader of the Senate Democrats. But none of her Democratic colleagues have publicly criticized her or called for her to step down.
“I work 24-7 for our caucus. We have a very diverse caucus. And certainly I will not be less forceful than I have been in making sure every member of our caucus is treated fairly,” Gibson said. “And that every community in this state is recognized for who they are, that we are inclusive. And that we as a people do not tolerate discrimination on any front.”