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Backlash after DeSantis deactivates SJP in Florida

US: Florida orders deactivation of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, prompting legal action
2 min read
Palestine Legal has announced that the call to ban SJP chapters in Florida was "unconstitutional".
Palestine Legal takes action following Florida's DeSantis banning pro-Palestinian group from state campuses [Getty]

A US-based civil rights organisation has announced that it will take legal action after public universities in Florida were directed to "deactivate" chapters of National Students for Justice in Palestine on their campuses.

Palestine Legal released a statement on 25 October saying that the decision was "a blatant attack on students’ First Amendment rights", adding that "it will be challenged in court".

"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," the statement said.

"It is not surprising that this egregious move to silence the student movement for Palestinian rights is being pursued under DeSantis," it added.

"The call to ban Students for Justice in Palestine chapters in Florida–or anywhere across the country–is unconstitutional. It’s a violation of the First Amendment as affirmed by the Supreme Court in Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972)."

Florida’s university system, working with Governor Ron DeSantis, ordered state colleges to shut down pro-Palestine student organisations on campuses, Reuters reported.

The State University System of Florida said chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had to be disbanded 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 Hamas releases the more than 200 hostages it took in the October 7 attack on Israel.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also stated that DeSantis' actions were unconstitutional.

"Instead of keeping students and the Jewish community safe, the government is simply silencing ideas it doesn't like," Howard Simon, the group's interim executive director, said in a statement.

Tensions against pro-Palestinian students have led to harassment and assaults at US universities, following the Hamas attack and Israel's subsequent siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.