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Indiana lawmakers oppose antisemitism bill


INDIANAPOLIS — Disagreements among Indiana lawmakers could prevent passage of a bill aimed at addressing antisemitism on college campuses for the second year in a row, unsettling Indiana students and professors as divisions surrounding the ongoing Israel-Hamas war deepen.

Indiana House Republicans passed House Bill 1002 two months ago as one of their five priorities for the 2024 session. The law, aimed largely at higher education, defines anti-Semitism broadly as religious discrimination and promises to “provide educational opportunities free from religious discrimination.”

The House bill uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and explicitly included “contemporary examples of antisemitism” provided by the alliance that reference Israel. These have been accepted by the US State Department.

But state senators who debated the bill this week passed a modified version of the bill by a vote of 42-6 on Tuesday that removed language opposed by critics of Israel’s military action in Gaza. The amended version still includes the IHRA’s broad definition of antisemitism, but deletes the name of the alliance and any examples containing explicit references to Israel.

Opponents argued that the use of direct references would stifle criticism of Israel in academic settings and advocacy for Palestinians on campuses due to the worsening humanitarian crisis.

But the bill requires final approval from the House before lawmakers plan to delay it until Friday, and Republicans in the House want the original language restored.

The distinction between rooms is familiar. A similar bill was unanimously accepted in the State Assembly last year, but lost its validity because there was no vote in the Senate.

For students on Indiana campuses, the legislation comes during a painful year of growing concerns about conflict. To some, the Senate’s changes are a welcome relief after weeks of protests against the measure. Others see the changes as a betrayal and feel unheard by MPs.

Maya Wasserman, a 22-year-old Jewish student at Indiana University Bloomington, wants to see examples of references to Israel coming back to the bill because it provides guidance on what antisemitism looks like.

“It wouldn’t have the same impact without examples and reference to the IHRA,” he said.

Mikayla Kaplan, a 19-year-old freshman from Houston who chose to attend Indiana University because of its strong Jewish student community, said she was skeptical of the changes but still wanted to see the bill advance.

“Jewish students need the protection of the law,” he said.

Kaplan said he has experienced antisemitism since the 7th grade, when someone dropped a swastika drawing in front of him. Normally open to sharing Jewish holidays and practices with friends, she has been holding back since October 7th.

He said Jewish students were verbally abused around campus, with some wearing the star of David or other symbols of Judaism. Kaplan said she now feels comfortable at the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center, a center exclusively for Jewish students in residence or at the university.

Yaqoub Saadeh, 21, a senior at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and president of the Middle East Student Association, said he was in favor of defining antisemitism, but said the original proposal led to fears of speaking out against Israel. He said the change felt as if his voice had been heard in the statehouse for the first time.

Saadeh, who is Palestinian and grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis, often wears a keffiyeh, a checkered scarf that represents Palestinian solidarity. Instances of physical and verbal abuse against Arab and Muslim students have also increased since the war began, he added, especially when he found himself in public after the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Vermont in November.

“Is there a car about to hit me?” He wonders when he will cross the street. “Sometimes if I’m feeling a little more anxious, I’ll get a shot or something.”

Daniel Segal, a retired professor of history and anthropology who lives in Bloomington, is on the coordinating committee of Jewish Voice for Peace in Indiana. He described the IHRA’s examples of conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel as “fundamentally flawed”.

“We think the Senate bill corrects harmful flaws in the House bill,” he said.

The state House sent the bill to a conference committee, where lawmakers from both chambers will work to resolve differences in just a few days.

The effort to define antisemitism in many states predates the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Hamas killed nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and sparked a war that left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead. But the war gave fans another motivation. This year, governors in Arkansas and Georgia signed measures, and the proposal is still awaiting gubernatorial review in Florida. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed a bill defining anti-Semitism on Wednesday.

Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.


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