Commentary

Preserving academic freedom amidst concerns with antisemitism bill

February 1, 2024 7:00 am

Protestors chanted and held signs outside of the House Chamber after a vote on House Bill 1002 on Jan. 18,2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

As Representative Chris Jeter closed the January 10 General Assembly House Education Committee hearing on House Bill 1002—cleverly yet mistakenly titled “Enforcement of Equal Educational Opportunity”— he said, “this bill is not about freedom of speech. It is about curriculum, and teaching our kids what is consistent with our values.”

This bill brings a chill to my spine and fills me with fear of politicians inserting themselves in our schools. The measure will seek to limit criticism of Israel with the widely controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. The definition includes 11 contemporary examples of antisemitism, with seven of them specifically referring to Israel and its policies. 

Although Jeter claims the bill does not limit the freedom to criticize Israel, the reference in the bill to contemporary examples, the majority of which refer to Israel, and the vagueness of the language make it very easy to weaponize against pro-Palestinian views or those critical of Israel’s actions or policies. It also allows politicians to dictate what is or isn’t allowed in textbooks and reference materials, let alone who is or isn’t fit to teach or be a student in Indiana public institutions.

This is reminiscent of misguided attempts to influence curriculums and control the narrative around the history of America and the role of slavery in it.

Standing against antisemitism

I know much about antisemitism, and I stand firmly against it. On a sad and anxious night in October 2018, I stood in front of an Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation room packed by Jewish people and allies, many of whom came from my community of Muslims in central Indiana. The whole interfaith community was there to stand by our Jewish brothers and sisters, who mourned the loss of their fellow Jews in the Tree of Life Synagogue terrorist attack. 

I spoke from the heart, with no prepared notes, I needed none to express what filled my heart and mind, that the loss of Jews is a loss of Muslims as all are siblings in the human family, and that the Muslim community stands by our Jewish friends. Less than five months later, our Jewish friends came to Al-Fajr mosque where I preach, to stand by their Muslim brothers and sisters when the atrocity against Muslims in a Christchurch, New Zealand mosque occurred. 

This reciprocal relationship is beautiful and hope-filling, and among those I cherish the most. My commitment to counter antisemitism, and that of the Muslim community, is as strong as ever, because it is what our faith demands of us: To stand against hate and injustice regardless of who the perpetrator is. 

It is sad to see a bill designed to control academic curriculum be disguised in combating antisemitism. It will do the former, and nothing of the latter. The vagueness of the definition of antisemitism in HB 1002 and centrality of Israel in the contemporary examples it references will no doubt conflate antisemitism with the criticism of Israel.

Misuse of measure

As a person who believes in peace and is hopeful of achieving it in the Middle East, I believe that understanding the history of Israel and Palestine in its entirety with no bias or selectiveness, and allowing our young students to discuss these facts with complete respect to all views and with no fear or reservations, is our way to develop the generation who can lead our nation to better outcomes. Controlling the narrative, representing only one view, and selecting historical facts, will perpetuate American policies that helped sustain the cycle of violence through unconditional support of the state of Israel, even when its actions do not adhere to our values or the basics of human rights.

The legislation’s misuse of religious discrimination statutes sets a dangerous precedent of allowing intervention with academic freedom and educational discourse. Before this bill has even been passed, we’re seeing officials on college campuses punish students, professors, and potential speakers and guests for sharing their views on Israel or showing support for the Palestinian people. Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch have documented several instances in North America and Europe where the IHRA definition was used to stifle free speech or criminalize criticism of Israel or Zionism.

As a Muslim and someone who embraced American values, I see the potential for this bill to further disproportionately impact Arab and Muslim communities, limiting our ability to express diverse perspectives and be full and equal participants. As we confront HB 1002, I urge our legislators to consider the long-lasting implications on academic freedom, cultural diversity, and the ability to engage in open discourse. Let us not allow this bill to become a tool for suppressing voices and narrowing the scope of our educational landscape. Our commitment to learning, understanding, and embracing diverse perspectives should remain unwavering.

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Ahmed Alamine
Ahmed Alamine

Ahmed Alamine is the Imam of Masjid Al-Fajr and the director of religious affairs of the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association. He also serves on several boards and community organizations: Board of Directors of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, Greater Indianapolis Multi-Faith Alliance, and the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network.

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