With hate crimes on the rise in the United States, the El Paso City Council last week adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism as a way to protect the city's Jewish community and other minority communities.
The alliance defines antisemitism as "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities," according to a news release from West Side city Rep. Peter Svarzbein's office.
"I think, if you look, we have seen a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidences in this country," Svarzbein said. "So, if we can learn one lesson from the Holocaust, genocide doesn't start with gas chambers, it starts when good people stay silent."
According to data from the Anti-Defamation League, more than 2,700 incidents of antisemitism were reported in 2021, compared with just over 2,000 in 2020, a 34% increase nationwide. But in Texas, the results are even worse, the group reported, as antisemitic incidents rose from 42 in 2020 to 112 last year, a 167% increase.
"Texas is now one of the top five states with the highest antisemitism incidence rates," Svarzbein's news release stated.
For Svarzbein, the issue hits close to home ‒ his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia who rarely spoke of her experiences ‒ but is not wholly unique to the Jewish community.
"This idea, this trauma of being a third-generation Holocaust survivor ... is something that is a big part of my identity," Svarzbein said, noting that he is also the son of immigrants. "That also translates to understanding (that) there's other groups that deal with trauma as well and deal with other forms of discrimination and violence.
"This community will not stand for antisemitism, bigotry or racist language," he continued. "This community has seen firsthand ... what anti-Latino and anti-Hispanic words lead to."
Svarzbein noted that the events of Aug. 3, 2019, when 23 people were killed while shopping at an El Paso Walmart by a white supremacist targeting Hispanics, were the result of the sort of language the alliance's resolution is hoping to end. The gunman echoed right-wing talking points about a Hispanic invasion in his manifesto.
"It didn't start at the Walmart," Svarzbein said. "It started with the invasion language, that was the seed that led to the kind of violence we saw at Walmart. It's extremely important that this community speak as one voice and say good people will not stay silent in the face of hate."
While the alliance's definition adopted by the council is not legally binding, Svarzbein believes it goes a long way toward showing the city's opposition to hate speech, in all of its forms, as well as its support for its Jewish community.
"As a city representative, I have supported policies that expand the protection and rights of immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and other minority communities," Svarzbein said in his release. "We see too often these days the need to stand united for all of our communities in El Paso and beyond."
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: El Paso City Council takes strong stance against hate speech