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Gov. Abbott advances efforts to combat antisemitism in Texas

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(The Center Square) – Ahead of the start of Passover on Monday and as antisemitic incidents continue to occur on college campuses and in public schools, Gov. Greg Abbott is taking additional action.

Abbott issued an executive order requiring all higher education institutions in Texas to comply with a list of requirements to ensure Jewish students are safe on campus. The requirements include reviewing free speech policies, establishing appropriate punishments for antisemitic rhetoric on campuses, ensuring policies addressing the sharp rise of antisemitic acts are enforced, and including the definition of antisemitism in free speech policies. The chair of the board of regents for each Texas public university system is required to report to the governor’s office examples of compliance within 90 days.

Abbott’s efforts continue as Rice University in Houston was ranked among the worst colleges in Texas for antisemitism and as a federal Title VI complaint was filed against Dallas Independent School District alleging harassment and discrimination against Jewish students. Although not a college campus, allegations against Hillcrest High School leaders are among other allegations being made against several Texas public schools.

According to a U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights report, 133 elementary-secondary and post-secondary institutions are currently under investigation “for discrimination of shared ancestry.” As of April 16, three of them are in Texas: Carroll ISD in Southlake, Irving ISD in Irving and Spring Branch ISD in Houston.

Passover, which begins Monday, has generally been a heightened alert period for law enforcement, officials told The Center Square. With Iran’s recent attacks against Israel, the FBI director warning of a likely Islamic terrorist attack and Jewish Americans being targeted, law enforcement officials are on higher alert.

The most recent antisemitic targets of violence in Texas include U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz’s office being vandalized by pro-Hamas sympathizers and a Pakistani Islamist taking hostage Jewish parishioners at a Colleyville synagogue in January 2022.

“Antisemitism is never acceptable in Texas, and we will do everything we can to fight it,” said Abbott, who has repeatedly expressed his commitment to standing with Israel and the Jewish community. “Across the country, acts of antisemitism have grown in number, size, and danger to the Jewish community since Hamas’ deadly attack on October 7th.”

While Texas took immediate action to protect Jewish schools, synagogues, and other key locations after the attacks, Abbott is committing to do more. He points out that while many Texas colleges and universities acted quickly to condemn antisemitism, “some radical organizations on our campuses engaged in acts that have no place in Texas.” Now, he’s requiring additional action “to ensure that our college campuses are safe spaces for members of the Jewish community.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also identified oversight of antisemitism occurring on Texas college campuses as part of 57 interim charges for the state legislature to address. The Higher Education Committee will be reviewing anti-Semitism and free speech on college campuses this year and submitting findings for the legislature to consider next year.

Abbott has advanced multiple resources to protect the Jewish community in Texas, including encouraging public schools to utilize additional resources shared by the Texas Education Agency “to increase awareness and understanding” about the Middle East conflict.

This also includes understanding Texas’ partnership with Israel, ranging from agricultural research and development, to science and technology, to exporting over $1 billion worth of goods to Israel, The Center Square reported.

State law also prohibits state agencies from investing in companies that “boycott” Israel.

The Texas Comptroller has reminded businesses about Texas’ Israel boycott list and Texas has purchased $20 million in Israel bonds.

The Texas legislature also recently allocated more than $4 million in grants to support 31 Jewish organizations’ security enhancements.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is continuing to coordinate with local and federal law enforcement partners on heightened security measures. It’s encouraging Texans to use iWatch, a free, anonymous resource to report suspicious activity. Reports can be made online, via a phone app and by calling 844-643-2251.

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