Florida orders state universities to disband pro-Palestinian student group

AP , Thursday 26 Oct 2023

Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s administration is taking the extraordinary step of ordering state universities to ban a pro-Palestinian student organization from campuses, caliming it backs Hamas militants.

Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks during the Politics Eggs program at Saint Anselm College, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Manchester, N.H. DeSantis s administration is linking a pro-Palestinian student organization to terrorism and is ordering state universities to ban the group from campuses, saying it illegally backs Hamas militants who attacked Israel on Oct. 7. AP


As Israel’s attacks on Gaza have intensified, some college students have expressed solidarity with Palestinians, resulting in swift censure from some Jewish academics and even some prospective employers. But Florida has gone further, saying Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is supporting a “terrorist organization.”

DeSantis, who is running for president, has ramped up his pro-Israel stance since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, and Israel bloddy war on Gaza which led to pro- and anti-Israel demonstrations around the world. The governor has sent planes to Israel to provide supplies and return Floridians there who want to come back.

He also is supporting a special legislative session to impose new sanctions on Iran, which supports Hamas, and to express support for Israel.

So far, no government has presented evidence that Iran was involved in carrying out the attacks.

Students for Justice in Palestine has been on U.S. campuses for decades, with frequent protests calling for the liberation of Palestinians and boycotts against Israel. They network says it has more than 200 chapters across the United States.

Palestine Legal, a group that provides legal support for pro-Palestinian groups, said the recent ban on is part of a broader effort by DeSantis to suppress freedom of speech on campuses.

“Florida, particularly under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, has been actively undermining education, freedom of speech and social justice movements, including by banning anti-racist courses and trying to criminalize protests. It is not surprising that this egregious move to silence the student movement for Palestinian rights is being pursued under DeSantis,” it said Wednesday in a statement.

Under DeSantis, Florida has limited how race can be discussed in schools, prohibited state universities from spending money on diversity, equality and inclusion programs and taken other actions that critics say limit free speech on campus.

SJP has played a central role in a campus movement known as BDS, calling for the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel over its occupation and violent treatment of Palestinians. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free speech group, called Florida’s directive unconstitutional and dangerous and said the government does not have the legal authority to force colleges to ban SJP chapters.

“If it goes unchallenged, no one’s political beliefs will be safe from government suppression,” the group said in a statement.

The ban came after the only Jewish Republican in the state Legislature switched his support in the presidential election from DeSantis to former President Donald Trump, saying DeSantis doesn’t back up his pro-Israel words with action.

Rep. Randy Fine, who has advised DeSantis on Israel and Jewish policy, said he had called on the administration to take action against the student group but there was none until he released a strongly worded op-ed explaining his decision to switch his endorsement.

Students for Justice in Palestine and several other groups called for a national student walkout on college campuses Wednesday to demand an end to Israeli attacks on Gaza and to U.S. financial backing for Israel. Walkouts were planned campuses from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to the University of California, Los Angeles.

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