Opinion: Indiana bill defining antisemitism protects Jewish students under attack

Allon Friedman and Elliot Bartky Indianapolis Star

We are leaders of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana, a statewide Jewish advocacy group. We crafted House Bill 1002, designed to combat the rising tide of antisemitism in Indiana’s educational system, which was authored by state Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Noblesville.

Because a variety of individuals and groups in Indiana have attempted to discredit our bill, we feel it necessary to refute their misinformation and clarify the bill’s intent and impact.

The bill is in response to the rising tide of global antisemitism, which in recent years has increasingly endangered Jews not only in Israel, but also in diaspora communities including the U.S.

American Jews have suffered in the educational system, especially higher education, due to curricula increasingly biased against Jews and Israel, as well as threats, intimidation, destruction of property and physical violence targeted against Jews on campus.

The pitch of campus Jew hatred reached a crescendo after Oct. 7 when the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (aka Hamas) invaded Israel and sowed carnage that was beyond the scale of anything seen since the Holocaust. Hamas is the ideological cousin of al-Qaida and a group dedicated to annihilating all Jews everywhere, as well as destroying America.

Such attacks against Jews have taken a heavy toll. A 2021 survey conducted by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law found that 50% of Jewish college students feel compelled to hide their Jewish identity, and more than half avoid expressing their views on Israel.

College administrators do not have the legal authority to offer Jewish students and faculty the same civil rights protections offered to other individuals and groups when they are targeted because current law does not include protections for Jews as Jews.

Even in Indiana’s educational institutions, the ability of Jewish students to seek redress for discriminatory treatment depends solely on the willingness of administrators to recognize and address the dangers Jewish students face. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

H.B. 1002 remedies this gap in the law with a definition of antisemitism that provides educational administrators the authority to treat antisemitism using the same policies and procedures they use to address other discriminatory practices.

Opponents of H.B. 1002 have twisted it into something unrecognizable. What is it really about? At its most basic, it does three things.

First, it defines antisemitism in Indiana code based on the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition accepted by over 30 states, federal agencies and dozens of nations.

The IHRA definition is developed with the understanding that anti-Israel and anti-Zionism are commonly, but not always, used to mask antisemitic speech and behavior. For example, the old Jewish blood libel now appears in the form of charges that Israelis commit genocide and ethnic cleansing and harvest the organs of murdered Palestinians.

The old version of Jewish world domination has now become the charge that Zionists control American foreign policy, money, and media. The Nazi cry for a “Judenfrei” Germany (Germany free of Jews) is now the cry of “from river to sea Palestine will be free.” Anti-Zionists also attempt to redefine Judaism and Jewishness by denying the unique millenia-old bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel that is an essential part of Jewish religion, history, and culture.

Second, H.B. 1002 requires educational institutions to apply civil rights protections to individuals experiencing antisemitism as they would with any other group, thus ensuring equality under the law.

Third, it provides legal protection for discrimination against all religions, not just Judaism.

Critics of the bill falsely claim that the bill stifles free speech. This is a red herring because the definition makes clear that context is crucial, as it is in all instances of alleged discrimination like racism or sexism. The reason why examples of antisemitism involving Israel are provided in the definition is not because all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, but precisely because some people claim that no criticism of Israel can ever be antisemitic.

Moreover, the critics blithely ignore the free speech rights of Jews, which are trampled on when Jews are intimidated, threatened or bullied into silence. A major purpose of this bill is to provide for equality in the free speech arena by removing illegal harassing conduct motivated by definitional antisemitism.

H.B. 1002 will help provide equal protection to Jews in Indiana’s educational institutions where they are under attack in ways that do not hinder or limit the rights of other individuals. Only an antisemite would be unhappy with that outcome.

Allon Friedman is the president and Elliot Bartky is the vice president of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana.

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