For the past several decades, the Anti-Defamation League has tracked incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the United States. The ADL recently published a new audit, in which Texas ranked fifth highest, with 211 incidents last year.
Other states ranked highly were New York, California, New Jersey and Florida. The audit tracks antisemitic incidents by states within the three categories: harassment, vandalism and assault. Texas saw its largest increase in vandalism, which increased by 71 incidents from 2021 to 2022.
Jackie Nirenberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s regional director for Austin, talked with Texas Standard to discuss the audit and the state’s ranking. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How does the ADL keep track of, or record, incidents over the course of each year?
Jackie Nirenberg: So we compile information that is reported to the ADL, as well as from our law enforcement partners and members of the community at large. We have a reporting platform on our ADL website where people can report incidents of both violent nature, but also just incidents of hate and bias.
And even things like vandalism. Do you have an idea of what made up the majority of incidents in Texas?
Yes. So vandalism made up a large proportion of the incidents in Texas. The vandalism has gone up, particularly in the Central Texas region. We’ve seen a rise in the proportion of vandalistic acts, which means the destruction of property or some other kind of altering of property – whether it be stickering or defacing property, writing on property, things like that. Harassment often includes things like flyering. We’ve seen a rash of these incidents throughout Texas where people have found on their driveways, for example, little baggies with rocks in them, and then an antisemitic flyer inside. And those incidents have been rising for a couple of years now.
Texas is a big state, both geographically and population-wise. How have we seen the level of incidents in Texas rise compared to across the country?
The incidents in Texas are rising at a greater level than in a number of states throughout the country. There are a lot of possible reasons for this. Number one, Texas is a large state – highly populated state – which makes sense. We also are home to at least one of the major antisemitic or white supremacy groups that were founded here in Texas. So that also has something to do with the proportion of incidents here versus other states around the country.
Are those groups becoming more active? Is that your sense?
They’re definitely becoming more visible, and certainly social media has accelerated that visibility. I know these groups have also been emboldened over the last few years. And really that’s the insidious part about this is the normalization of this kind of activity. We get desensitized over a while and then pretty soon it just becomes an everyday occurrence. And so this is why we’re raising the red flag now.
What do you hope people take away, though, from reviewing the audit?
I think a lot of people are not used to talking about antisemitism. Luckily, American Jews are included, because, for a long time, we haven’t had to worry about the level of antisemitism in this country. Certainly not in my lifetime. And so we want people to know that even biased comments or stereotypical comments that perpetuate Jewish tropes can eventually lead to this kind of behavior.
The way that happens is what we call the “pyramid of hate.” So at the very bottom of the pyramid is, you know, the often innocent, unintentional, perpetuation of stereotypes through jokes or comments that happens every day. But if those are not interrupted, then they can be normalized and then the next level becomes more of a bullying situation or more of a harassment situation, and it opens the door for other actions leading all the way up to violence, eventually. And honestly, that is the pattern that led to things as horrifying as the Holocaust during World War II.
These things don’t happen overnight, right? So it takes a while for a society to be normalized to this kind of behavior. And if we don’t stop it in its tracks early on in that pyramid, it can lead to the events we’re seeing now. So that normalization has led to the ability of these groups to proliferate this kind of activity.
What would be your call to action for someone listening who says, “gosh, I want to make a difference when it comes to getting Texas off this top five list in antisemitic incidents”?
I think it’s pretty simple. For one thing, people can educate themselves about this subject. Like I said, luckily, until very recently, we haven’t had to have this conversation on a large scale here in the United States. But now we are at this point where we need to. Antisemitism is also tied to the degradation of democracy. And so it is becoming an issue that really impacts everyone.