Taking a stand
By Nicole Hawkins
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says antisemitism is on the rise in the city and has joined a group of U.S. mayors to denounce the trend.
According to Cheryl Drazin, Central Region vice president for the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitism is on the rise both nationally and locally, specifically regarding incidents of vandalism and assault.
In October 2020, a Dallas parking garage was vandalized with a large swastika and antisemitic messages.
“We have had some issues with antisemitism here locally, and they are, statistically speaking, on the rise,” Johnson said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
On Feb. 2, Johnson pledged his support for Mayors United Against Antisemitism, a joint initiative of the American Jewish Committee and American Conference of Mayors. Through this initiative, Johnson, along with more than 250 mayors across the United States, signed a statement that condemned antisemitism in all its forms and declared support for government efforts aimed at eradicating antisemitism.
The statement references several recent attacks against Jewish people, including the deadly 2018 attack at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as the FBI’s 2019 hate crime statistics, which reported that more than 60% of religious hate crimes were motivated by offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.
Johnson says he doesn’t know why antisemitism is on the rise, but he believes there needs to be more robust conversations surrounding the topic in the community, which is why he signed onto the initiative and hosted a conversation about antisemitism in January at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
“I have a longstanding and, I think, very good relationship with our local Jewish community, from rabbis to members of our Jewish Federation,” Johnson said. “We talk about a whole range of issues that are of importance to the Jewish community, and antisemitism is one of them.”
Joel Schwitzer, AJC regional director, said the organization is grateful for Johnson’s “unequivocal declaration that antisemitism is fundamentally incompatible with core American values.” He noted that a recent AJC survey reported that nine out of 10 Jews feel antisemitism is a problem in our country, and added, “The leadership shown by over 250 U.S. mayors who have been mobilized to participate in this initiative, makes a clear statement that bigotry and antisemitism have no place in our cities.”
Jewish Dallas Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn said she’s had many conversations with Johnson on the topic, and that while antisemitic acts in Dallas are alarming, they aren’t anything new to the Jewish community, as she witnessed antisemitic vandalism 40 years ago in Dallas public school.
“It’s not new to our community, but what is new is that we have a Black mayor willing to stand up and call it out, and like he does for other minority groups, [he] stands up for everybody’s right to have a seat at the table, to feel welcome,” Mendelsohn said.
Johnson said signing a letter is never enough, but it’s important for mayors and local leaders, not just national ones, to take a stand against antisemitism and hate of any kind.
“I wanted to make sure I use my voice, to lend that voice to a cause that I believe is vitally important, and that is fighting hate in all its forms, and antisemitism certainly is one of those most pernicious forms of hatred,” Johnson said. “I want to make sure Dallas is not in any way, shape or form associated with it.”
Following are the Texas mayors who also signed the document:
Mayor Ken Fulk, Allen
Mayor Steve Adler, Austin
Mayor Betsy Price, Fort Worth
Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston
Mayor Jose L. Segarra, Killeen
Mayor Michael Evans, Sr., Mansfield
Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, Plano
Mayor Thurman Bartie, Port Arthur
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio
Mayor Joe R. Zimmerman, Sugar Land