In recent weeks, the country has experienced a rash of antisemitic incidents. Antisemitic banners have been flown over our nation’s highways. A Torah scroll belonging to a Jewish fraternity at George Washington University was desecrated during a burglary. On Halloween in Austin, an arson attack on the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel caused more than $150,000 in damage. A suspect has been indicted on federal arson charges.
These attacks have no place in civilized American society. Every one of us can make our communities stronger and safer places by speaking up against attacks such as these. Our civil society in this country is endangered not only by those who commit such violence, but also by those who fail to condemn it.
Many of our leaders are taking a stand against bigotry. City councils in communities where antisemitic incidents have occurred are passing resolutions condemning antisemitism. U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, signed a statement of support for the Jewish community of Central Texas.
These leaders are taking meaningful action to combat hatred and violence. Others are part of the problem.
U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Gov. Greg Abbott have all been missing in action. Republicans in the U.S. House refused to censure their colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene for her antisemitic remarks and social media posts.
Meanwhile, antisemitic attacks have been condemned by others. U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R- Nebraska, recently tweeted his congratulations to the Austin Police Department for promptly arresting a suspect in the synagogue attack. He said that we must make it clear that we abhor and reject antisemitism regardless of the source.
Sen. Cruz hasn’t done that. Neither has Sen. Cornyn. Our Senators have failed all Texans who want our representatives to state publicly hate crimes have no place in our state or our country. It makes our country a more dangerous place for all of us.
Why is that? It’s because every one of us shapes the communities in which we live with our actions. We set an example for our families, friends, neighbors and colleagues with everything we say and do.
What leaders say and do matters even more because they set an example for everyone in the communities they lead. The title of a recent study of business leadership says it all: “Like it or not, you are always leading by example.”
We set an example not simply when we speak up, but also when we do not. Many officials and leaders are standing against hate in our community by issuing statements, passing resolutions and attending rallies. Too many congressional representatives have chosen to condone hate by remaining silent. They besmirch their office and endanger their constituents by opening the door to a society in which such acts are accepted as normal.
The attempted destruction of a synagogue with fire does not offer any moral complexity that might excuse their silence. Even in these polarized times, we should all be able to agree that setting fire to a house of worship is wrong, bad, dangerous and un-American. And we should all be willing to say so publicly.
The silence of many members of Congress tells a different story. It suggests that they believe that our community norms should allow such behavior.
All of us who believe otherwise have a moral obligation to speak out against hate in our communities. And we have an obligation to challenge those who are elected to represent us when their actions fail to uphold the basic values of our society.
Deborah Beck is an associate professor of classics at The University of Texas at Austin.