By Rimsha Syed
Photo by Austin American-Statesman
Over the past month, Austin has witnessed a rise in antisemitism. Community leaders are rallying behind Austin’s Jewish residents following a string of antisemitic incidents – including arson at a synagogue. The incidents come as nearly 1 out of every 4 Jews in the US indicate experiencing antisemitism over the past year, according to a recently released report by the American Jewish Committee.
On October 23rd, about a dozen people hung banners with antisemitic messages over the far west overpass on Mopac. Only days later, another banner drop was seen on the same overpass. Written on one of the banners was the online domain “goyim.tv,” a website affiliated with the “Goyim Defence League,” a group that allegedly hosts several neo-nazis and is responsible for antisemitic stunts across the country.
Members from the same hate group traveled to East Sixth Street in Austin displaying similar antisemitic posters and also approached Black and Hispanic people, making statements about the Jewish community that were untrue.
The incidents occurred close to Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center, who called the incidents “extremely upsetting.” Here’s more from their letter:
“We are always vigilant in monitoring antisemitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities. This group’s goal is to attract attention by being as offensive as possible.”
The Anti-Defamation League in Austin, a local chapter of a national nonprofit group known to respond to complaints of discrimination and racism, explained that the Far West Boulevard, where both banner displays happened, is home to many of Austin’s Jewish residents. Texas is home to more than 176,000 adherents to Judaism, according to the World Population Review.
On October 22nd, students of Anderson High School showed up to campus to see it vandalized with multiple swastikas, homophobic language, and racist slurs against the Black community. The ADL is said to be tracking 17 reported incidents over a 10-day span.
During the first week of November, several San Marcos residents received hateful letters in front of their homes with the name of the same group. These letters were sealed in plastic bags and accompanied by small rocks, targeting Jewish residents and blaming them for the Coronavirus pandemic. As a response of unity, several community menorah lighting events have been scheduled for later this month, when the eight nights of Hanukkah begin Nov. 28.
It doesn’t end there. On Halloween night, a fire was set at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Central Austin. According to officials, the damage was contained to the exterior of the sanctuary building and caused at least $150,000. The arsonist, who has been caught, kept a journal with racist and antisemitic entries that linked him to the fire. He was also seen carrying a 5-gallon container near the premises.
In San Antonio, a neo-Nazi group reportedly protested outside the Holocaust Memorial Museum while the Jewish Federation of San Antonio was hosting an event with a live video feed from Auschwitz, Poland. In a letter addressed to the community, the Jewish Federation stated, “this group is not representative of the warmth and outstretched arms that the non-Jewish community has shown us in over 100 years of settling in San Antonio.” Two neighborhoods in San Antonio reported seeing antisemitic flyers left on their lawns, according to Texas Public Radio.
Community leaders across the Austin area have condemned these acts and have called for solidarity with Jewish neighbors and residents. The Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council have both passed resolutions denouncing antisemitism and hateful speech.
Following the string of antisemitic acts, more than two dozen faith leaders and clergy members from across Austin were joined by community leaders at a rally held by nonprofit Interfaith Action of Central Texas (IACT) as they called for unity.
Although American Jews have not experienced the same state-sanctioned aggression as European Jews, antisemitism has never been absent within the US. As people bearing a long history of condemnation by racial science, Jews have continued to face stereotypes, hate speech, and violence at the hands of the alt-right. After nearly 1.7 million Eastern European Jews immigrated to this country at the turn of the 20th century, there was immediate backlash with efforts to restrict their arrival. Donald Trump’s presidency was not clear of antisemitism either – the worst being when he refused to condemn the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
The fight to end antisemitism means defending fundamental freedoms and the dignity of all human beings. IDCL signed onto the list of allies who stand in unity with the Jewish community in a letter of support put together by IACT.
For more information about the longstanding history of antisemitism please visit: