Commentary

Why we’re asking for a definition of antisemitism

A bill defining antisemitism is headed to the Indiana Senate. (Andrii Koval/Getty Images)

For the second legislative session in a row, the Indiana Jewish Community is asking the Indiana General Assembly to adopt, through legislation, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism. 

We believe passage of this bill, House Bill 1002, is a critically important step by the state to support Jewish Hoosiers and help identify and confront antisemitism that is resurgent across the country, particularly after the October 7, 2023 surprise attack by Hamas terrorists against Israel. 

To date, 34 states, the U.S. Department of State, dozens of countries, over 1000 institutions around the world, and nearly 50 Jewish organizations and institutions in Indiana have endorsed this definition. Last year, a bill adopting the definition passed the Indiana House unanimously but stalled in the Senate.  

As much as we believe this is a simple and reasonable action for the General Assembly to take, we understand that the bill has generated some misunderstandings that we would like to correct. 

First and foremost, HB 1002 is not discriminatory in any way. It simply acknowledges a widely recognized definition of antisemitism, which can often be hard to define based on certain circumstances. The bill places the definition into the education section of the Indiana code so that K-12 and university administrators can best respond to antisemitism when they see it. The bill also adds “religion” to the state’s education anti-discrimination code in addition to the word creed — something that should be welcomed by everyone. 

Protestors disrupt antisemitism bill, critique lack of recognition for Islamophobia

The Jewish community is not opposed to the state debating and adopting other definitions of discrimination that target other religious, cultural, or diverse communities – in fact, we would probably be the first in line to testify in support as we have always worked to support other communities – but we do not believe that every “phobia” or “ism” must always be lumped together.

There are times when the legislature should focus on and tackle a singular issue, giving it the full weight of its attention. With Hillel International showing that acts of anti-Jewish discrimination increased by 700% on college campuses in the month following the October 7 attacks compared to the previous year, we ask that this be one of those times.

Second, HB 1002 does not stifle free speech or prevent valid criticism of the State of Israel. Concerns of this nature are misplaced. The bill specifically states that the IHRA definition “does not include criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country.”  The confusion around this issue likely emanates from a list of examples of actions and statements that could, depending on the context, constitute antisemitism as provided by the IHRA on its website about the application of the definition.

These are just examples and are qualified by context. They are not included in the statutory language and are only meant to guide users of the working definition on application. Some of these examples should be obvious (e.g., calling for the harming of Jews), while others serve as guideposts for circumstances in which reasonable criticisms of the state of Israel could stray into antisemitism (e.g. comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis or claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor). Discussions or criticism of Israeli foreign policy, policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, or the Two-State Solution are completely valid, should be welcomed, and often happen within the Jewish community as much as they do any other religious, cultural, or academic community. 

We are not indifferent to the concerns over this bill and will work with legislators and friends, to address them. But we also want Hoosiers to understand that while there is a level of nervousness about increasing antisemitism within the Jewish community, we are resolute in confronting it. We are standing together, and believe this is the time for the General Assembly to stand with us by passing HB 1002.   

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 web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jamie Ratner Rich
Jamie Ratner Rich

Jamie Ratner Rich is the President of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. She is a Partner at Sapient Capital.

MORE FROM AUTHOR
Jacob Markey
Jacob Markey

Jacob Markey is the Executive Director of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council.

MORE FROM AUTHOR