Contentious antisemitism bill passes Indiana Senate, heads for further negotiations in House

The Republican priority measure doubles down against antisemitism on Hoosier colleges campuses.

By: Casey Smith Indiana Capital Chronicle – March 5, 2024

State senators on Tuesday approved a bill that would define and ban antisemitism at Indiana’s public education institutions despite pushback from many in the state’s Jewish community.

In contention has been a definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which was included in the original version of House Bill 1002 but removed by the Senate education committee last month. 

The definition includes “contemporary examples” of antisemitism which numerous members of the Hoosier Jewish community said are necessary to codify in state law. Critics of the proposal maintained the IHRA’s definition is overly broad and limits free speech, however.

The Senate ultimately voted 42-6 Tuesday in favor of the bill language without the IHRA definition. Voting against the measure were five Republicans and one Democrat.

“I’m frankly disappointed that it’s not everything that I would want this bill to be,” said Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, who sponsored the bill. “Politics is about what’s possible. And this is what is possible. It’s a very strong definition of antisemitism.”

During his remarks he referred to last fall’s Hamas attack, saying “When Oct. 7 happened, that is abhorrent and should never happen. There are still six Americans that are prisoners. I wish this bill would say that American foreign policy should be that you’ve got 24 hours to bring them home. For you will know no depths of hell that the United States of America would go to bring them back. I wish that’s what this bill said. It doesn’t. But this is what’s possible.”

The legislation, authored by Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, now heads back to the House chamber for final considerations. House Speaker Todd Huston suggested last week the proposal will head to a conference committee, where further negotiations over the bill will take place.

“We obviously passed that bill out unanimously,” Huston said of the earlier draft of the House GOP priority measure, which included the IHRA definition of antisemitism. “But Chairman Jeter and the Senate are talking, and we appreciate their opinions and their thoughts, and we’ll work that out next week.”

“We pass legislation that are priorities for our caucus, and (the Senate) has their opinions, too, and we’ll work through it,” the speaker continued. “Maybe sometimes we get through it, other times we don’t.”

Defining antisemitism in Indiana law

The IHRA’s “working definition” includes contemporary examples of antisemitism, like “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.”

The definition approved by the Senate is part — but not all — of IHRA’s overall definition of antisemitism.

The newest draft of the bill instead defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” Even so, it makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country” is not antisemitism.

Indiana law already bans discrimination on the basis of race and “creed,” which means religion. The legislation specifies that antisemitism — bias against Jewish people — is religious discrimination and is not allowed within the public education system.

Jeter filed an identical bill in 2023. It passed out of the House in a 97-0 vote but never received a committee hearing in the Senate, effectively killing the proposal. 

Could the IHRA definition return?

Critics of the IHRA definition argue that it’s overly broad and limits free speech. They worried, too, that even with the bill’s carveout, criticism of a foreign government would still count as anti-Jewish rhetoric. 

Many of those issues appeared to be resolved after the IHRA reference was struck out.

Whether the definition will be returned to the bill is likely up to a conference committee that could convene in the coming days. To advance to the governor’s desk, the bill will still need final approval from the House chamber.

Several Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns in recent weeks about the removal of the IHRA reference which last month led to a reversal of support and opposition among those who testified on the proposal at the Statehouse.

Numerous members of Indiana’s Jewish community said they can’t support the bill unless it codifies the IHRA definition into state law. They maintained that “hateful” and “harmful” acts of semitism will continue across the state’s colleges and universities unless the IHRA definition is added back in.

“It is unconscionable for the State of Indiana to enact House Bill 1002 without fixing the definition of antisemitism, which must reference IHRA,” says Jacob Markey, executive director of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. “We remain hopeful that the Indiana General Assembly will protect Jewish students in Indiana by returning House Bill 1002 to the House-passed version. We look forward to working on this bill further in conference committee.”

Sacha Roytman, chief executive of an anti-bigotry coalition called Combat Antisemitism Movement, further said that without the IHRA definition, “which is broadly supported across the Jewish community in Indiana and worldwide,” the bill “lacks the ability to clearly and explicitly identify antisemitic incidents, let alone combat antisemitism on campuses.”

Attorney General Todd Rokita additionally expressed “strong support” Tuesday for the earlier version of the bill — before its “most meaningful components were gutted.”

“By overwhelming margins, Hoosiers stand with Israel and the Jewish people,” Rokita said in a statement. “That means explicitly endorsing, in its entirety, the language and perspective of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. If we distance ourselves from the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, we will be left with a law that is watered down and weak.” 

“We must do better,” Rokita continued. “The only way to fix this is to pass this Senate version, which was made toothless, so the House can make it correct again in conference committee. Anything less than that is a betrayal of Jewish individuals and the whole notion of equal protection under the law.” 

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