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Indiana governor should veto ‘toothless’ Jew-hatred bill, attorney general says

“Indiana would become the first state in the nation to codify the IHRA definition without explicitly including the examples,” said Rabbi Mark Goldfeder, who leads the National Jewish Advocacy Center.

Illustrative photo of a judge and gavel. Credit: Everything Possible/Shutterstock.
Illustrative photo of a judge and gavel. Credit: Everything Possible/Shutterstock.

Indiana state senators have turned a bill, which was originally written to protect Jewish students from “ruthless, antisemitic attacks that have increased since the horrific slaughter of Israelis on Oct. 7,” into “a toothless mess,” Todd Rokita, the state attorney general, stated on Tuesday.

The amended bill “allows antisemites to continue to cloak their discriminatory hatred of Jews as simple political disagreements directed at Israel, not Jews,” Rokita added. 

He also criticized Indiana state representatives for failing to “correct the Senate’s actions, which equates hateful, antisemitic rhetoric, like ‘From the River to the Sea’ to mere political speech.”

“The governor should veto this compromised bill to show he understands that regular Hoosiers won’t compromise with Jew-hating bigots,” Rokita said, directing his advice to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican.

The Indiana state Senate had removed the 11 “contemporary examples” appended to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism from the bill. One of the IHRA examples of antisemitism is “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Rabbi Mark Goldfeder, CEO and director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, told JNS that the bill, if passed, “has the potential to do great harm to our community” by excluding the contemporary IHRA examples.

“I pray that the governor will responsibly veto it so that they can actually get it done right,” said Goldfeder, who is also an attorney. “As someone dedicated to helping get the IHRA definition passed and put into use, it pains me to have to say this, but the Indiana bill violates the first principle of legislation, which is simply ‘Do no harm.’”

“Indiana would become the first state in the nation to codify the IHRA definition without explicitly including the examples,” Goldfeder said. “The reason every other state has refused to do this is precisely because it will create enough mud in the water for antisemites to claim that the examples have been purposely excluded, and they will continue to target Jewish people for various aspects of their Jewish identity.”

Goldfeder told JNS that the IRHA definition with the contemporary examples “comes with years of application history, and precedent, both incredibly helpful for any authority charged with making determinations using the IHRA definition.”

“Now, various antisemitic groups are already explicitly claiming that the ways the IHRA definition has always been used across the world and across the country somehow do not apply in Indiana,” he added. “This could hurt every single IHRA effort in the world going forward.”

Goldfeder cited two specific parts of the examples that the Indiana legislature removed: that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” and “the explicit caveat that all of the examples could, taking into account the overall context be considered antisemitic.”

“Context is crucial here, as it is in any case of alleged discrimination, and these two clauses, that the legislature took out, would actually be the greatest defense for someone who was falsely accused of antisemitism,” he said.

On a policy level, Goldfeder added that “it is a terrible idea to let antisemitic hate groups have a say in defining antisemitism.”

“It sends a message that the Jewish community is nothing more than a political chip whose safety can be compromised for political expediency,” he told JNS. “This is not an issue for political compromise. This is about keeping real Jewish people safe, and antisemites should not get to carve up the definition of antisemitism to exclude their own actions.”

Peggy Shapiro, national director of special projects at StandWithUs, told JNS that “looking at antisemitism only as it appeared in 1942 will not help guide us to identify more contemporary mutations,” such as “those that target the Jewish collective, Israel, rather than the individual Jew.”

“Not only does the final version of HB 1002 lend no clarity to understanding antisemitism, it also makes Indiana an outlier among the 36 states, 1,200 global entities and the U.S. Departments of State and Education, which have all adopted the definition of antisemitism and its examples,” she said.

She called for the Indiana governor to veto the bill.

“The times are too dangerous to settle for legislation, which will not help Indiana fight antisemitism and which sets a precedent for other states to adopt empty bills,” Shapiro said. “We must not settle for a bill which undermines its very purpose of combating antisemitism. We trust that Gov. Holcomb, who genuinely believes that Jewish Hoosiers deserve equal protection under the law, will veto this empty measure and work towards a meaningful one.”

JNS sought comment from the governor. “He will not have a comment until after he makes a decision,” Erin Murphy, the governor’s press secretary, told JNS.

Chris Jeter, an Indiana state representative, originally authored the bill. “We removed reference to the examples, which had been causing some issues, removed some excess language about criticisms of Israel as a country because the definition really focuses on antisemitism toward individuals,” the Republican said.

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