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Dive Brief:

  • The leader of the State University System of Florida has demanded campuses shut down chapters of a pro-Palestinian student organization that he accused of backing terrorists. 
  • In a Tuesday memo, system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said campuses must disband Students for Justice in Palestine, which has at least two chapters in the Florida system. He said the national wing of the group had “affirmatively identified” it was part of the attack earlier this month carried out by Hamas, a militant group the U.S. government and other nations have labeled a terrorist organization
  • Supporting terrorist groups is a felony under Florida law, Rodrigues said. He said the system made the decision after consulting with his political ally, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a staunch conservative angling for the White House in 2024. 

Dive Insight:

The war in the Middle East, which has resulted in thousands of Israeli and Palestinian deaths, has dominated political discussion since tensions reignited early this month, in an attack known as Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. 

While colleges have been called upon to address campus pressures over the war, this is the first occasion since it began that a public higher ed institution attempted to dislodge pro-Palestinian student groups.

Rodrigues took exception to a “toolkit” the national branch of Students for Justice in Palestine issued. This toolkit described the Al-Aqsa Flood attack as “the resistance” and said “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.” The Anti-Defamation League has criticized this and other “inflammatory statements” made by chapters of the group.

“Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” Rodrigues said in the memo.

A representative from the group’s national branch did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. 

Students for Justice in Palestine was founded on the University of California, Berkeley campus in 2001, according to the ADL. The pro-Palestinian network has grown significantly since then to more than 200 campus chapters, its website states.

Rodrigues did not identify which of the 12 Florida system universities maintains group chapters, though reportedly they’re at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. 

A system spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The system will use “all tools at our disposal to crack down on campus demonstrations that delve beyond protected First Amendment speech into harmful support for terrorist groups,” Rodrigues said. This support could also result in “adverse employment actions and suspensions for school officials” in the future, he said.

The threats immediately attracted the ire of civil liberties watchdog the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, who said Wednesday that Rodrigues’ directive was unconstitutional.

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