An arson attack on a synagogue in Austin, Texas has prompted a resolution by the City Council to condemn antisemitism and seek ways to combat hate.
The attack on Austin’s Congregation Beth Israel on the night of 31st October was the latest in a series of incidents in the Texas city. In its response to the incidents, the Austin City Council passed a resolution condemning “all hateful speech and violent action that…promotes racism or discrimination, or harms the Jewish community.”
Speaking at the council session, Council Member Alison Alter said recent events were “simply further evidence of the challenges” the city faced. “The reality is that the hate is here, and we need to up our game, to lead our community, and to devote focus and attention so hate does not take root in our community.”
The resolution directs the Austin City Manager to work with local groups, including the ADL, “to review and then identify and implement improvements to the City’s response to hate.”
These improvements should include training for city staff to educate “participants in how hate manifests; how to effectively respond to incidents of hate; and how social media is used to propagate hate.”
Damage to the synagogue was so severe that its rabbi, Steve Folberg, and President, Lori Adelman, said in a message to congregants that it would take “weeks rather than days” to get their “sanctuary fit for occupancy” leading them to seek temporary accommodation for services.
A few days after the incident, some 500 people, including clergy and political leaders, gathered at the oldest synagogue in Texas – the B’nai Abraham – to condemn antisemitism. Rabbi Folberg and Ms Adelman said the rally and “expressions of solidarity” had been a source of strength for all those “facing the practical and emotional demands of beginning to heal our community from this attack.”
In a media release, the Austin Fire Department issued stills from a security video of the arson suspect and his vehicle. The release said that the suspect had driven into the synagogue car park in a black SUV and approached the building carrying a five-gallon gasoline can. He then returned to his vehicle. The FBI is also now investigating the incident.
A series of antisemitic incidents in Austin have included the vandalising of a local high school with Nazi symbols, a banner hung from an overpass reading “Vax the Jews,” and the display of antisemitic posters on a local street.
Two of the incidents were allegedly committed by a local hate group calling itself the “Goyim Defence League”, a group whose membership reportedly contains several neo-Nazis and is understood to be led by Jon Minadeo II. The group is responsible for stunts such as visiting a Chabad centre to claim that “these Jewish terrorists” were behind 9/11, and hanging a banner on a Los Angeles overpass reading “Honk if you know the Jews want a race war.” Earlier this year, Mr Minadeo II created t-shirts carrying antisemitic slogans such as the Holocaust was “a hoax”.
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