Protestors, mostly college students, gathered outside of the Indiana House chambers on Jan. 18 to protest the voting of House Bill 1002. Photo courtesy of AP News.
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House Bill 1002, a bill that defines antisemitism as religious discrimination in the education code, will head to the Indiana Senate after being unanimously voted on by the Indiana House of Representatives on Jan. 18, despite protestors’ concerns that the bill weaponizes antisemitism and does not provide protection for Muslim students.
House Bill 1002 was authored by Representative Chris Jeter (R-Fishers), who authored the identical 2023 bill, House Bill 1037, that passed unanimously in the House but never got a hearing in the Senate. The Indiana House Republicans included House Bill 1002 as one of their top priorities for the 2024 legislative session in hopes that the bill would become law this year.
The bill was reintroduced this year out of concern for the rise of antisemitic incidents, specifically on college campuses since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel which resulted in about 1,200 Israelis dead and 250 captured. Since the attack over 27,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Alyssa Smith, a sophomore exploratory studies major and co-president of Butler’s chapter of Hillel, said she has witnessed an uptick in antisemitism on campus, whether it is people blaming acts of war on Jewish people rather than the Israeli government, or people claiming that a group like Hillel should not exist on campus.
“Although [the war] centers more around [the Israeli and Palestinian] governments, people have turned it into an issue of the groups of people that are linked with Israel and Palestine,” Smith said. “I think it’s important to have protection in place because ultimately, [the Jewish community] isn’t responsible for what’s going on there, nor are people who support Palestine.”
Opponents of the bill have pointed out that both the country and Indianapolis have also seen a rise of Islamophobia, including on college campuses, due to the Israel and Hamas war. To combat this, the Indiana House Democrats filed an amendment that would add Islamophobia to the bill. However, the amendment was not called down before the vote.
Paul Ford II, a senior entrepreneurship and innovation major and member of the Butler chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), agreed that antisemitism is a major issue, but has concerns about the exclusion of protection for Muslim and Palestinian students.
Many critics of the bill claim that this bill was created to not just protect Jewish students, but to show that the Indiana government is in support of Israel and actively weaponizes antisemitism as a political tool.
“One of the things that I want people to know is that antisemitism is unacceptable, but so is anti-Palestinianism and the repression of Palestinians speaking out against anti-Palestinianism,” Ford said. “I think it’s important that we reject the narrative that fighting these forms of discrimination are isolated.”
The bill explicitly states that antisemitism “does not include criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country.” It bans antisemitism in educational institutions, meaning that schools enforce the law and decide punishments, not law enforcement. Some opponents are concerned that the wording in this part of the bill is vague, even too vague to prevent institutional censorship.
Ford fears that if the bill is passed into law, it will create room for people to equate antisemitism to the critique of Israel.
“I don’t think that everyone understands the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism,” Ford said. “I think that at this moment, it’s important that people educate themselves so that we aren’t leveraging a narrative against any group or marginalized class.”
Sophomore sociology major Riley Mehall is the vice president of Butler’s chapter of Hillel and the community impact fellow for Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC). She believes that the wording of the bill sufficiently protects students who want to criticize Israel.
“This type of law has been passed in over 35 states, over 40 countries and thousands of institutions across the world, and you still see free speech in those places,” Mehall said. “I would say for the people who are saying that it prevents you from having free speech to actually read it because it says that you can criticize Israel.”
As of the end of 2023, 36 states have passed a law that officially defines antisemitism in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, the definition included in House Bill 1002, into their education codes. Six states, including Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey have proposed similar bills following Oct. 7.
Butler’s Student Government Association (SGA) previously tried to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism in October 2020 but received backlash from students concerned about free speech and creating a divide between Muslim and Jewish students. SGA voted to pass resolution 2021-026, which denounced antisemitism without providing a definition.
The IHRA 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.”
Kat Kriz, a senior elementary education major and president of SJP, takes issue with the wording of the IHRA definition and believes that the definition is not effective.
“The IHRA definition of antisemitism used in this bill does not even identify antisemitism as a form of prejudice and does not help identify antisemitic microaggressions, speech or discrimination,” Kriz said. “I believe if Indiana lawmakers were really serious about fighting against antisemitism, they would do so in a more productive way.”
However, despite any opposition to the definition, many Jewish students are excited that there might be an official definition in place and would feel much safer on campus.
“Critiques of Israel are very much valid, and people should be able to criticize Israel,” Smith said. “However, I believe that once that criticism passes into people saying that Hillel doesn’t have a right to exist on campus, or Jewish people are committing these acts or just blaming things on Jewish people, that’s when we feel more comfortable knowing that it is considered antisemitism.”