Indiana Gov. Holcomb vetoes bill defining antisemitism: 'toothless'

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill Monday that would have defined antisemitism in state education code while simultaneously signing a proclamation condemning all forms of antisemitism.

The Republican governor cited changes made to the bill in the final days of the legislative session in a news release. Aimed at addressing antisemitism on college campuses, the bill’s opponents argued that early versions of it would penalize people for criticizing Israel.

Disagreements between lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state House and Senate threatened to kill the bill before reaching a compromise in the final hours of the legislative session on March 8.

GEORGIA GOV. KEMP SIGNS BILL OFFICIALLY DEFINING ANTISEMITISM IN STATE LAW

This is the second time the state House has tried to pass the legislation; an identical bill died last year after failing to reach a committee hearing in the state Senate.

Around the country, similar legislation rose to prominence this session amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The proposal would broadly define antisemitism as religious discrimination, claiming it would “provide educational opportunities free of religious discrimination.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is seen speaking at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired on Jan. 8, 2024, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Defined in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, antisemitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The original House bill used the organization’s definition, which its author has since warned against using in law. It also included “contemporary examples of antisemitism” provided by the group, which make explicit references to Israel. These have been adopted by the U.S. Department of State and under former President Donald Trump, through executive order.

Over 30 states have adopted the definition in some way either through proclamation, executive order or legislation.

State senators, however, passed an amended version of the bill earlier this month that still included the IHRA’s broad definition of antisemitism but deleted the group’s name and examples that include explicit references to Israel. Opponents including the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network and Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana had argued that such direct references would stifle criticism of Israel in academic settings and activism on campuses in support of Palestinians facing a worsening humanitarian crisis and widespread starvation.

The disagreement between the chambers prompted the bill to go to conference committee, a body consisting of lawmakers from both chambers. The committee reached an agreement on the last day of the legislative session to add the IHRA attribution back to the bill but remove the clause with examples. The final version was approved in both chambers with bipartisan support.

“The language that emerged in the final days of the legislative session fails to incorporate the entire International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and its important contemporary examples,” Holcomb said about vetoing the bill. “Additionally, the confusing language included in the bill could be read to exclude those examples.”

The Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) said the group supported the final version of the bill after it passed, as did the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network, which was opposed to the original version over concerns about academic freedom and advocacy.

Holcomb’s support wasn’t clear after its passage. Last week, he expressed concern that Indiana would be an “outlier” among other states thanks to the changes and said he wanted to ensure there is no “ambiguity” in Indiana law.

Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita called on Holcomb to veto the bill, saying it is “toothless” without the mention of the examples.

Holcomb’s proclamation condemning antisemitism cites the IHRA definition and its examples. In a statement, Holcomb said the proclamation “ensures we join numerous states and countries by supporting the entire IHRA definition with its inextricable examples.”

The JCRC thanked Holcomb in a statement for his “thoughtful” consideration of “the concerns raised in recent days by national experts and the Attorney General.”

The group said it will work closely with lawmakers and the state to “ensure that the guidance of Governor Holcomb’s proclamation is correctly applied to identify and confront antisemitism and meet the needs of Jewish students in K-12 and higher educational settings.”

Holcomb has not vetoed a bill since 2022. Lawmakers can easily overturn a veto in Indiana and only need a simple majority to do so. It’s unclear though if or when lawmakers might reconvene.

The push to define antisemitism in numerous states predates the Oct. 7 attacks in which Hamas killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, sparking a war that has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians. But the war gave supporters of the push another motivation. This year, governors in Arkansas, Georgia and South Dakota signed measures and a proposal is still awaiting gubernatorial review in Florida.

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