Indiana lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill they say will ban antisemitism in public educational institutions—although critics of the proposal maintain it limits free speech and conflates criticism of a foreign government with anti-Jewish rhetoric.
The legislation advanced from the House Education Committee on Wednesday in a bipartisan 12-0 vote, sending it to the full chamber.
Authored by Republican Rep. Chris Jeter, of Fishers, House Bill 1002 is a priority measure for the House GOP caucus.
Indiana law already bans discrimination on the basis of race and “creed,” which means religion. The legislation would specify that antisemitism—bias against Jewish people—is religious discrimination and is not allowed within the public education system.
The legislation uses a definition of antisemitism adopted by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Education Department and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. And it makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country” is not antisemitism.
“This bill does not tell anybody what they can or cannot say, does not tell anybody what they can or cannot do. There’s no new crime. There’s no police force enforcing it. It’s simply a reflection of our values as a state when it comes to teaching our youth and our students,” Jeter said before the House Education Committee on Wednesday. “We have a long tradition of support for our Jewish community, and particularly our Jewish students. This bill reaffirms that—it makes it clear that they’re going to be safe here.”
Jeter filed an identical bill in 2023. It passed out of the House in a 97-0 vote but never received a committee hearing in the Senate, effectively killing the proposal.
Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said last month that he expects his chamber to support the bill this time around.
Antisemitism on Hoosier campuses
Some 40 people testified on the bill Wednesday at the Indiana Statehouse. Many were students or faculty at Indiana colleges, including Indiana and Purdue universities. A handful of high school students also spoke before lawmakers, sharing stories about various antisemitic incidents in their classrooms.
Rabbi Sue Silberberg, executive director at IU Hillel, said the bill is a much-needed response to a problem she has “faced and struggled with” during her tenure at Indiana University.
Since the Hamas attack in October, she said antisemitic chalkings, drawings on bridges and flyers hung around the campus have prompted an increase of scared and crying students to her office.
“I’ve seen antisemitism regularly throughout my years at IU. Thankfully, IU has tried to address it,” Silberberg said. “But the overarching problem has been that Indiana does not have a clear and strong definition of antisemitism, and it is not specifically identified or called out as a problem and something that we stand behind prohibiting or stopping in our state.”
At Purdue, public health student Honor Fuchs said she has faced antisemitism “in the form of wildly biased curriculum, hateful posters on campus and outright verbal attacks from students.”
She described an experience last fall, when she and other Jewish students were “mobbed, yelled at and insulted by fellow students” while holding a fundraiser on the campus.
“I couldn’t complain, because being called a Nazi pales in comparison to the real persecution my grandparents faced in Nazi-occupied Romania,” Fuchs said. “It is horrifying that in 2024, in the United States, I have to make these calculations of gradations of bigotry and discrimination.”
Günther Jikeli, associate director of IU’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, also supported Jeter’s bill, noting that criticism of Israel is not the same as “wanting to destroy this person or this community or this state.”
But more than two-dozen critics of the bill pushed back, many emphasizing that criticism of the Israeli government does not amount to antisemitism. Some warned of witch hunts under the vague definition.
Daniel Segal, representing Jewish Voice for Peace—Indiana, said the bill “undermines the struggle against antisemitism and would thus make me and other Jews less safe in Indiana.”
“House Bill 1002 makes it harder to fight the scourge of antisemitism, because its sole purpose is to sow confusion about antisemitism. We cannot fight what we are confused about,” he continued.
“If people want to respond to criticisms of the Israeli state, they should provide reasoned counter arguments, not fake charges of antisemitism,” Segal said. “Defenders of the Israeli state resort to these fake charges of antisemitism only when they lack such reasoned counter arguments.”
He added that the legislation would also “trample education” by making teachers and students “fearful of speaking openly, in regard to the history and current events in Israel and Palestine.”
Echoing others who testified, Anisse Adni, an Islamic studies teacher in Indianapolis, said lawmakers should take out “vague and ambiguous language” in the bill “that would restrict our constitutional right to freedom of speech.”
“If I, as an American citizen, have the right to criticize my own government’s policies—if I have the right as an American to ask my government to right its wrongs, to change its policies—and I have no fear of punishment or reprisal because free speech is enshrined in the constitution, … why would I, as an American, be okay with my right of free speech being impeded or restricted when criticizing a foreign government’s policies? It shouldn’t be wrong.”
“I’m not anti-Chinese if I criticize China’s government policies or their behaviors or whatever it may be,” he continued. “We should not conflate antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli government and its policies.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.