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Anti-Jewish incidents were on the rise in 2021, Texas report finds

A stained glass window that once had bullet holes is now repaired at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Thursday, April 7, 2022. In January, four were taken hostage by a pistol-wielding man during a Shabbat service.
LM Otero
/
AP File Photo
A stained glass window that once had bullet holes is now repaired at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Thursday, April 7, 2022. In January, four were taken hostage by a pistol-wielding man during a Shabbat service.

A state commission on antisemitism has recommended eight policy proposals ahead of next year’s legislative session in response to a rise in antisemitic hate crimes in Texas.

In a first-of-its-kind report, the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission cited 112 reports of antisemitic hate crimes across Texas in 2021. That’s more than double the number of incidents in 2020, according to the report.

Over the past two years, Jewish Texans have been the victims of arson, anti-Jewish canvassing, and Nazi graffiti, among other acts of antisemitism.

In January, an armed man entered a Colleyville synagogue and took four people hostage, including a rabbi. The gunman was killed after an hours-long standoff.

The commission's report pointed to social media as a vehicle for anti-Jewish sentiment: In 2022, Texans engaged in almost 400,000 social media conversations related to antisemitism.

“These trends have emerged at a moment when information — and misinformation — is easier than ever to share and when hate groups can quickly build audiences and allies online,” the report says.

The report compiled data from law enforcement agencies and anti-hate groups, along with interviews with Jewish Texans, educators and museum curators, among others.

While Jewish people make up just over 2% of the U.S. population – and about 0.06% of Texas’ population – more than 63% of hate crimes targeted Jews nationally in 2019, according to the most recently available data provided by the FBI.

The Texas report, released last week, is the state’s first study on antisemitism in Texas following the 2021 passage of House Bill 3257. That legislation created the advisory commission, and tasked the body with advising the Texas Historical Commission on best practices for combating antisemitism across the state.

The advisory commission recommended eight policies for promoting awareness, improving security and fighting antisemitism.

Five of its recommendations would be implemented by the committee in its advisory role, including:

  • Antisemitism training at universities: The commission would advise senior and mid-level administrators at Texas’ public universities on antisemitic issues common in academia, including anti-Israel sentiment and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS. However, it’s unclear what impact this recommendation would have – Texas House Bill 793 already stipulates that a governmental agency cannot contract with companies that boycott Israel.

  • Expanded Holocaust education: The commission would also partner with the Texas Board of Education to help public schools integrate Holocaust Remembrance Week into their curricula, help select textbooks, identify speakers, and ensure Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, provides students with comprehensive Holocaust education.

  • Definition of Antisemitism: The commission recommended helping public entities incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism into their official materials.

  • Holocaust-related books: The commission would guide school districts to ensure that books about the Holocaust, genocide and antisemitism are available to students and families in alliance with the Texas Education Agency and Texas State Library and Archives Commissions’ statewide standards. It's not clear how the recommendation to include Holocaust-related books in public schools would fit into existing policy banning so-called Critical Race Theory. While the area of study is taught in graduate level courses, it’s also been used as a catch-all term by Texas lawmakers to ban books that teach about racism and other controversial topics in public schools. Some schools in Texas have already placed bans on books about the Holocaust. Keller ISD initially banned a version of the Diary of Anne Frank before backtracking. Katy ISD targeted the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus.

  • Increased connections to law enforcement: The commission would help strengthen law enforcement’s understanding of antisemitic crime and establish strong relationships with Jewish communities.

The remaining three recommendations would require legislative action, according to the report:

  • Create a grant program: Requesting that the Governor’s Public Safety Office establishes grants to help religious organizations, schools and community centers improve security infrastructures.

  • BDS on college campuses: Recommending legislation prohibiting public universities from implementing academic boycotts consistent with the BDS movement. The policy recommendation does allow for boycotts of nations defined by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism.

  • Legislative awareness: The commission asked for a “listening tours” requirement for lawmakers with local educators and museum officials to better understand the Holocaust and antisemitism.

The commission says it hopes its recommendations will lead to greater safety for Jewish Texans and an increased understanding of how to fight antisemitism.

The Texas Legislature will review the recommendations in the 2023 legislative session.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Katherine Hobbs