JUPITER ISLAND, Fla. — Allegations of antisemitism are surfacing in the town of Jupiter Island.
A town committee member has resigned after a text message he sent offended people of the Jewish faith who work or live on the island.
Pension Plan Committee Chair Robert Geddes sent a text to another Jupiter Island resident stating: "Total — have printed, packaged and delivered 115 packets. Was told that if impact review gets an enormous amt of letters we have a chance to stop this. May have to try to hire the big environmental lawyer in Tallahassee. Miami is on its way here. Google 'the Jills' 2 Jewish real estatebabes who sold Normans house to Les Wexner."
The text was discovered by attorney Ethan Loeb, who is representing property owners in a legal battle with the town over public records access and the town's property development laws, particularly the waterfront setback line.
The text was found as Loeb continues to obtain certain public records through discovery.
Loeb explained to WPTV why he felt the text was offensive. He, too, is of the Jewish faith.
"It's the word Jewish, right," Loeb said. "I mean, if they were talking about the development of Miami they would have said, 'Oh no, we don't want large development coming up here to Jupiter Island. We're different.' Or, 'Oh, there's these real estate professionals who are from Miami. We don't want that.' What in God's green earth does the fact, that whether they're Jewish, Christian, Muslim or no religion at all, have anything to do with it?"
One of the Jills referenced in the text, Jill Hertzberg, sent a statement to WPTV with her reaction upon reading the text.
"We are living in perilous times with far too much division and hate," she said. "It's very disappointing when anyone makes ignorant antisemitic comments, much less someone who occupies a position of influence and trust. Antisemitism and other forms of discrimination are a breach of that trust and should not be tolerated. Responsible and decent people should call out this kind of hate wherever it exists. Silence or acquiescence is not an option. We all can and must be better than this. We will continue to proudly serve all communities and their residents regardless of anyone's religion, and we will continue stand up against hate and ignorance."
Loeb sent Town Manager Robert Garlo a formal complaint about the text, urging the town to take "prompt action" to disaffiliate with Geddes, "[calling] into question the motivations of many working at the Town and those who seek to prevent individuals of the Jewish faith from living or working on Jupiter Island."
WPTV contacted Garlo for his response to the allegations of antisemitic remarks. He issued the following reply:
"In response to the horrific attacks perpetrated against the Israeli people on Oct. 7, the Town of Jupiter Island stands united with the nation of Israel and their absolute right to defend their homeland. At a time when we see antisemitism increasing around the world, I would also state that the Town, and every man and woman employed by the Town, categorically condemn any and all forms of racism and hateful rhetoric."
However, at a subsequent Town meeting, Garlo made more detailed remarks, including, in part: "Mr. Geddes has now voluntarily submitted his resignation as a member of the committee with the sole reason to ensure the town continues operating fully without continuous distraction and harassment from outside parties. … I would hope instead that Mr. Loeb does the right thing and offers myself and every employee of the town a written apology."
The back and forth is frustrating to Jewish town residents like Dr. Susan Greenberg.
"No one did a mea culpa. No one said they were going to do anything about it," Greenberg said. "I recommended they consider having a town meeting run by the religious leaders of the local community."
WPTV also called Geddes' home to ask him for comment. A person who answered the phone said Geddes did not want to comment but said the text was out of context and felt faith was being used as a weapon to create a divide on the island.