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Florida's DeSantis bans pro-Palestinian group from state campuses


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By Andrew Hay


Oct 24 (Reuters) - Florida’s university system, working with Governor Ron DeSantis, ordered colleges on Tuesday to shut down a pro-Palestinian student organization, outlawing the group whose national leadership backed Hamas' attack on Israel.

The State University System of Florida said chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had to be dismantled as part of what it called a crackdown in the Republican-led state on campus demonstrations that provide "harmful support for terrorist groups."

"Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated," the system's Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote in a memo to university leaders.

DeSantis, a candidate for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, has taken a hard line against Palestinians, suggesting Gazan civilians be denied water and utilities until the Palestinian militant Hamas group releases the more than 200 hostages it took in a deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said DeSantis' actions were unconstitutional and an attack on free speech.

"Instead of keeping students and communities safe, the government is simply silencing ideas it doesn't like," the group said in a statement, declining comment on whether it would take legal action.

Administrators at some U.S. universities criticized the National SJP after the group termed Hamas' attack "a historic win for the Palestinian resistance" and called for a "day of resistance" on Oct. 12 with demonstrations by its chapters at over 200 colleges in America and Canada.

In his memo, Rodrigues said National SJP identified itself as part of Hamas' "resistance" and it was a felony under Florida law "to provide material support ... to a designated foreign terrorist organization."

The National SJP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

SJP chapters are active at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, a spokesman for Rodrigues said in an email.


SJP at several Florida colleges are represented on Instagram and Facebook pages. SJP is not a recognized student organization at Florida State University or the University of North Florida, according to spokespeople for those universities.

Tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students have led to harassment and assaults at U.S. universities since the Hamas attack and Israel's subsequent siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas' 1988 founding charter called for Israel's destruction, and the group is branded a terrorist organization by Canada, Egypt, the European Union, Israel, Japan and the United States.

Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Howard Goller



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