In a groundbreaking move, Florida's university system, in collaboration with Governor Ron DeSantis, issued a directive on Tuesday to disband a pro-Palestinian student organization, becoming the first U.S. state to outlaw a group accused of supporting Hamas' attack on Israel.
The State University System of Florida, citing concerns about providing "harmful support for terrorist groups," ordered the removal of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters across the state.
"Based on the National SJP's support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated," stated the system's Chancellor, Ray Rodrigues, in a memo to university leaders.
SJP has been active in at least two Florida universities, with chapters at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and Florida State University in Tallahassee, as evident from their Instagram profiles. At the time of this report, the National SJP had not responded to requests for comment.
The decision follows a surge in tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student groups in the aftermath of Hamas' attack on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
The National SJP drew criticism from administrators at various U.S. universities when it celebrated Hamas' attack as "a historic win for the Palestinian resistance" and called for a "day of resistance" on October 12, encouraging demonstrations by its chapters at over 200 colleges in the United States and Canada.
Governor DeSantis, a contender for the Republican party's presidential nomination, has taken a hardline stance against Palestinians. He even suggested that Gazan civilians should be denied water and utilities until Hamas releases hostages taken during its attack.
The Florida university system justified its ban on SJP by pointing to a "toolkit" provided by the national organization to its chapters. This toolkit referred to Hamas' attack as "the resistance" and stated, "Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement."
Chancellor Rodrigues, in his memo, underlined that the National SJP had identified itself as part of Hamas' attack, potentially violating Florida law, which makes it a felony to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
(With inputs from IANS)