A major change to a bill that would define and ban antisemitism at Indiana’s public education institutions led to a reversal of support and opposition among those who testified on the proposal at the Statehouse Wednesday.

In contention is the removal of a definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which was included in the original version of House Bill 1002.

The IHRA’s “working definition” includes contemporary examples of antisemitism, such as “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 the actions of the State of Israel.”

Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers (Photo courtesy of Indiana House Republicans)

Lawmakers in the Senate education committee amended the legislation on Wednesday to remove mention of IHRA and its examples of antisemitism, however. The newest draft of the bill instead defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

The measure was unanimously approved by the committee and now heads to the Senate floor.

“We’ve made some changes to try to ensure that we’re not referring to outside entities, but that we’re making the definition our own in the code, and the bill really tries to strike a balance of not impeding on any free speech , but just saying if we fund state education, we want that education to reflect our values ​​as a body,” said Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, who authored the priority measure for the House GOP caucus.

“We wanted to be careful about referencing sorts of outside groups, because if their definition changes, we don’t want anybody to impose that ours is supposed to be changed,” he continued.

But numerous members of Indiana’s Jewish community said they couldn’t support the bill unless it codifies the IHRA definition into state law.

“I’m extremely disappointed that the amendment that passed did not include reference to the IHRA statement. This essentially gutted the bill we wrote, and now leaves Jews without equal protection,” said Allon Friedman, president of the Jewish Affairs Committee of Indiana, which helped craft the bill. “This is essentially abandonment of the Indiana Jewish community and unwittingly rewards our enemies. … The Jewish community is absolutely united on this issue — we do not want the bill without IHRA.”

What is the IHRA definition?

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.

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

By removing reference to IHRA, the bill excludes the alliance’s examples of contemporary antisemitism that would have also been outlawed in Indiana, including:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (eg gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (eg, claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

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.

He conceded Wednesday “there was some issue with some of those examples,” though.

“Whenever we do lists in bills and legislation, I feel like it gets a little iffy,” he told the Senate committee.

Before the amendment, critics of the proposal maintained it limits free speech and suggested criticism of a foreign government would count as anti-Jewish rhetoric.

More than two dozen people who testified against the original bill emphasized that criticism of the Israeli government does not amount to antisemitism. Some warnings of witch hunts under the vague definition.

Many of those issues appeared to be resolved with the updated version of Jeter’s bill.

“Most of our concerns with this bill were related to very specific language that was in there that confused antisemitism with criticism against the State of Israel. As this amendment stands now, most of those concerns have been addressed,” said Syed Ali Saeed, president of the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network. “I don’t think the IHRA definition is the best definition. It’s not the most complete, most fluid definition that’s out there.”

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Maliha Zafar, executive director of the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network, added that although the examples in the IHRA definition “undeniably address antisemitic sentiments,” the list is “concurrently overly broad and would have inadvertently stifled legitimate criticism and analysis of Israeli policies.”

Daniel Segal, representing Jewish Voice for Peace – Indiana, said the group “strongly objected” to the IHRA definition’s examples of anti semitism and its “confusing criticism of the State of Israel, and its policies, with antisemitism.”

“We believe that the amendments that have been made render this bill acceptable — the harmful elements have been removed,” Segal said. “The previous bill, we thought, was harmful to our Arab brothers and sisters, and we are committed as Jews to ensuring that ‘never again’ is for everybody. And that includes Palestinians. As Jews, that is part of our faith and is part of what we learned from the horrible experience of the Holocaust.”

Jewish community withdrawals support

Although originally in support of the bill, many from Indiana’s Jewish community say “hateful” and “harmful” acts of semitism will continue across the state’s colleges and universities unless the IHRA definition is added back in.

“As a Jewish student, we navigate a world where concealing our identity has become a necessity. On a campus where 10 to 12% of students are Jewish, incidents of antisemitism have skyrocketed by over 800%,” said Indiana University junior Kaylee Werner, who is also chair of the school’s Antisemitism Prevention Task Force.

She pointed to vandalism and swastikas “stained” on campus walls, as well as “unfair treatment” against Jewish students by some professors.

“This is the harsh reality that we face daily. The House-passed IHRA statement offers a beacon of hope in this darkness. It equips our administration with the necessary tools to combat antisemitism effectively and educate our community,” Werner said. “In this conversation, there is no room for ambiguity. There is either hate, or there is acceptance. There’s either right, or there’s wrong. We urgently need this statement to clearly identify and denounce these acts as antisemitism.”

Rabbi Sue Silberberg, executive director at IU Hillel, additionally emphasized that “we need the bill as passed through the House in order to protect the Jewish students on campus who are suffering every single day.”

In this conversation, there is no room for ambiguity. There is either hate, or there is acceptance. There’s either right, or there’s wrong. We urgently need this statement to clearly identify and denounce these acts as antisemitism.

– Indiana University junior Kaylee Werner

“We must recognize that Jewish students are marginalized, hated and discriminated against based on their spiritual connection, and this is antisemitism. … They are being harassed, they are being bullied, and they are being marginalized,” she said, noting that — since the Hamas attack in October — she has been “working with and seeing students who are facing severe antisemitism on campus every single day , in a way that I have not seen in the past 35 years.”

Even so, Sen. John Crane, R-Avon, said antisemitism and mistreatment of “Jews or any ethnic or racial group” is “absolutely abhorrent, the challenge is whether “government will be able to solve that.”

“I don’t think so,” Crane said. “I’m of the mind of a gentleman named Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who survived in the Russian Gulag, who said the line separating good and evil runs straight through the human heart. And at the end of the day, it’s a human problem that we’re going to have to be able to address, irrespective of whatever steps we attempt to take through governmental action.”

Several other Republican senators said Wednesday they were concerned about the amended bill, citing oppositional testimony from those in the Hoosier Jewish community.

Those lawmakers still voted in favor of the bill but said they want additional changes on the chamber floor to address those grievances.