By James Russell
Special to the TJP
Jewish organizations from across Texas descended upon the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 22, for their biannual Jewish Communities Day at the State: Mission to Austin advocacy day.
The event was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. It brought together 150 people from every Jewish Federation of Texas: Greater Dallas, Austin, Greater Houston, Fort Worth & Tarrant County, San Antonio and El Paso. The Community Relations Council (CRC) of San Antonio, Texas Hillel, Chabad at UT, Texas A&M Hillel, and Hillels of North Texas, also participated.
Attendees focused on three issues: access to early childhood education for all children, support for social services and Federation agency partners and legislation prohibiting the Texas State government from contracting or investing in businesses currently boycotting or planning to boycott Israel. They heard from longtime legislative observers, policy wonks and state officials.
Speakers included Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the nonpartisan online publication Quorum Report. (Editor’s note: The author of this article is a Quorum Report writer.) Marnie Glaser, executive director of Early Childhood Education for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), discussed the significance of high-quality early childhood education, which has been shown to narrow achievement gaps while improving lifetime outcomes for all students. Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, gave an overview of state and federal legislation that would cut funding from social service programs and echoed the attendees’ social service priorities,
But the anti-BDS bills were seen as key priorities among advocates and legislators.
House Bill 89 by State Reps. Phil King, R-Weatherford and Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Senate Bill 134 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, are part of a national trend targeting the BDS movement.
King told the group he is optimistic about the bill’s passage but legislators must know it is a priority among their constituents. The bill has the backing of leaders of both Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, who is Jewish.
Even if the state’s top officials support the bills, Dallas JCRC Chair Melanie Rubin agreed with King: Advocacy is important. And not just to pass this bill or other priorities.
“It makes a significant impact on our state legislators when they see such a well-attended program, with participation from Jewish communities throughout Texas. Our Jewish Communities Day at the State is an occasion for all of us to show our support for Israel, as well as our concerns about issues that impact all of us who live in Texas. Anti-BDS efforts, increasing access to high-quality early childhood education and support for the social services provided by our Federation partners, Jewish Family Service, Legacy Senior Communities and CHAI are issues that are important to the Jewish community as well as our broader communities throughout the state,” Rubin said in a statement.
Their attendance was not just acknowledged in personal meetings but on the House floor as well.
Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, acknowledged attendees with a resolution declaring Feb. 22, “Texas Jewish Communities Advocacy Day.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas Board Chair Daniel Prescott and other Jewish Federation joined Villalba on the floor for the resolution.
Prescott noted, “It was a great honor to stand with Representative Villalba as he recognized our Jewish Communities Day at the State. Numerous state representatives approached me afterward to express their support for Israel and the Jewish community.”
Seth Kaplan, Day at the State chair, also noted, “We appreciated the support and participation of all the Jewish Federations and many Jewish organizations and agencies throughout Texas. As the only full-time JCRC in Texas, our Dallas JCRC is pleased to have served as the planning and coordinating entity that brings together all the Jewish communities in Texas for this critical advocacy program.”
The Dallas JCRC continues to work with other local and statewide organizations to advocate for and support the Texas anti-BDS bill currently under consideration in the current legislative session.