DeSantis orders dissolving of Pro-Palestinian Student Groups in Florida

By: Terry Hunsicker

On October 24, 2023, the State University System of Florida announced that all student chapters of a pro-Palestine group, the National Students for Justice in Palestine, would be required to deactivate Florida public universities.

The decision was announced in a letter written by SUS Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, wherein he writes, “Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated.”

The SUS statement refers to a toolkit, titled the Day of Resistance Toolkit, released by the National SJP that outlines guidelines and instructions for protests planned for Oct. 12. The toolkit was created following the attacks on Oct. 7 in Israel.  It also outlines messaging and the general beliefs of the organization.

The toolkit states in its introduction, “The resistance in Gaza launched a surprise operation against the Zionist enemy which disrupted the very foundation of Zionist settler society.”

“We as Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly affirmed his decision to ban the group, speaking during an interview for NBC about the decision.

“They’ve linked themselves to Hamas… it’s not a First Amendment issue.” DeSantis said in the interview, “That’s a material support to terrorism issue.”

These statements are in line with the reasoning of the SUS letter, which says “It is a felony under Florida law to “knowingly provide material support… to a designated foreign terrorist organization.” The letter continues, “National SJP has affirmatively identified it is part of the Operation Al-Aqsa Flood—a terrorist-led attack.”

The SJP is connected to two branches located at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, however, the dissolution of the chapters has stalled. As reported by CNN, Rodrigues spoke before a SUS Board of Governors meeting to address the dissolutions.

At the meeting, Rodrigues informed the Board of Governors that the two organizations targeted in the ban order are not part of the official National Students for Justice in Palestine, with both branches stating in their constitutions that they are not under the control of the national level organization. Universities have sought legal advice before deciding on whether to dissolve the organizations.

“They raise concerns about potential personal liability for university actors who deactivate the student-registered organization,” Rodrigues said during the board meeting.

The decision to ban the national SJP in Florida has come during a period of unrest at some universities in America, which have become centers for tension regarding the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

A student at Cornell University was arrested after making a variety of antisemitic threats online, with the student facing federal charges for threatening a mass shooting that would have targeted Jewish individuals at Cornell.In one infamous case, trucks with digital billboards have been spotted at Ivy League universities, displaying a student’s picture and full name with the title “Leading Antisemites” written above. It is believed that the intention is to dox, publish private information maliciously, and inspire harassment against the students named by the trucks. Counter-protestors have taken to covering the displays of the trucks to protect the individuals named on the screens.

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