Protestors disrupt antisemitism bill, critique lack of recognition for Islamophobia

By: - January 18, 2024 2:09 pm

Protestors chanted and held signs outside of the House Chamber on Jan. 18, 2024, after a vote on House Bill 1002, which aims to define antisemitism in educational settings. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

House lawmakers unanimously passed a bill defining antisemitism in educational settings with little discussion, even as protestors interrupted proceedings and chanted outside. 

At the top of the bill’s discussion, House Speaker Todd Huston reminded the crowded gallery that signs were not permitted and Indiana State Police removed one person from the House Chamber after they shouted, “Resistance is now antisemitism.”

Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, pauses his introduction of House Bill 1002 after an interruption. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, introduced his bill by asking the body “to send a message to all of our Jewish students, all over the country that we’ve seen them and hear them. We love them,” Jeter said. “This continues a long history of unity and solidarity.”

The bill is identical to a bill Jeter got through the House in 2023 but that died when it didn’t receive a hearing in the Senate. 

Jeter specifically mentioned Oct. 7 — the day terror group Hamas invaded Israel, killed an estimated 1,200 people and kidnapped roughly 250 others. In response, Israel launched an assault on Hamas, beginning a ground invasion in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians. 

No other sitting member spoke on the bill, which passed 81-0. But 17 members were excused, including 13 Democrats. 

In response to the vote, the crowd outside of the chamber started chanting, “Free Palestine” and “Shame on you.”

Outside of the Chamber

Protestors appeared to be mostly college students, including Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis junior Sarah Ahmed, who said she was part of a group that also testified against the bill in committee.

Like others, she noted that Jewish Hoosiers are already a protected class under the state’s anti-discrimination ban. House Bill 1002 adds antisemitism specifically to the state’s public policy regarding educational institutions. 

“They are saying that this bill is only going to affect what is taught and that is absolutely not true,” said Ahmed. “(It) covers scholarships, student contracts, teacher contracts for colleges and teacher contracts for high schools.”

The bill explicitly states that antisemitism “does not include criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country.” Several other protestors held signs explicitly saying that criticizing Israel wasn’t antisemitic. 

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, talks to reporters after session on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor also had concerns about whether the bill would have an unintended impact on free speech.

“The First Amendment right is one of the things that we cherish the most. And I can say something bad about the United States, but I’m not anti-American,” Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said. “But if I say something bad about Israel, I’m anti-Israel or I’m anti-semitic? Those are questions that we need time to flush through.”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray called the bill a “really, really important issue,” especially following October’s events but didn’t commit to whether his caucus would advance the measure.

“We’ll discuss it in light of that and see if it’s something that the Senate wants to move forward with,” said Bray, R-Martinsville.

Exclusion of Islamophobia

Antisemitism has spiked in the months following the Oct. 7 attack — but so too has Islamophobia. Democrats filed an amendment adding Islamophobia to the bill but didn’t call the amendment down earlier this week. 

Rep. Victoria Garcia Wilburn, D-Fishers, released a lengthy statement following her yes vote, saying she hoped it was “the first step to addressing hate in all of its forms.” 

“… When hate is on the rise for one vulnerable group, it also rises for other vulnerable groups. As Jewish hate crimes have risen, Muslim, Black and Asian hate has risen, too,” Garcia Wilburn said. “We have been called to this building to represent our constituents, and when one suffers, we all do. Let us, this legislative body, set an example of being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Huston, R-Fishers, said lawmakers could still file a bill on Islamophobia before the filing deadline but didn’t discuss adding it to Jeter’s bill, which is a priority for the Republican House caucus.

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

“We’re all concerned about any of that. Absolutely any of that,” Huston said. “But this is the exact same bill that we passed last year and it deals with what we’ve seen specifically on our college campuses.”

“If it was the right legislation last year, it’s certainly even more appropriate this year. So we feel good about where (House Bill) 1002 is,” he continued. 

Ahmed, a Muslim student of Arab descent, recalled instances of Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment on her campus too, including a physical assault. Three Palestinian-American students in Vermont were shot while speaking Arabic and wearing a traditional Palestinian scarf known as a keffiyeh — the same type of scarf Ahmed now had over her shoulders.

“I don’t even wear a headscarf on campus and I have been called a terrorist; I’ve been called a terrorist sympathizer,” Ahmed said. “If they want to propose a solution to antisemitism, I think it’s only fair to propose a solution to Islamophobia.”

“I do not see the need for a bill that explicitly mentions the State of Israel more than once and I do not see the need for no parallel bill (on) Islamophobia,” Ahmed continued. “There are so many issues with this bill and the way they are construing us as antisemitic for being against this is — it’s deplorable, quite frankly.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. AP and Getty images may not be republished. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of any other photos and graphics.

Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

MORE FROM AUTHOR