TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s university system chancellor, responding to a push by Gov. Ron DeSantis, directed state universities Tuesday to disband campus groups with ties to the national Students for Justice in Palestine organization, marking the first punishments handed down to colleges here amid the Israel-Hamas war.
In a memo to school leaders, the state ordered a “crack down” on campus events led by the pro-Palestinian organization that the DeSantis administration claims amount to “harmful support for terrorist groups” like Hamas, which attacked Israel in early October. Florida, under Republican presidential candidate DeSantis, has staunchly supported Israel during the ongoing war and was monitoring college protests that have since ignited.
“Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote Tuesday.
There are at least two Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at Florida universities facing cancellation through ties to the national organization, according to Rodrigues, who did not specify where the groups were located in the memo. The University of Florida and University of South Florida, though, both appear to have active SJP chapters.
Florida is targeting the groups over a “toolkit” published by the national organization that has received growing attention from officials. Rodrigues, for his part, seized on a portion of the toolkit that labeled the attack, now known as “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” as “the resistance” and claimed that “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”
By linking this document to SJP branches in Florida, the state contends that the groups are violating a state law that makes it felony to “knowingly provide material support … to a designated foreign terrorist organization.”
“National SJP has affirmatively identified it is part of the Operation Al-Aqsa Flood—a terrorist led attack,” Rodrigues wrote Tuesday. Rodrigues did not spell out any specific punishment the groups or schools would face if they didn’t comply.
Heated rhetoric over the Israel-Hamas war has roiled colleges across the country, leaving some of the nation’s top schools struggling to address the campus fallout.
The punishments doled out to student groups come as state policymakers, such as DeSantis and Florida’s only Jewish Republican state lawmaker, state Rep. Randy Fine, have pressed university leaders to penalize anti-Israel dissent on campuses across the state. More, too, could be coming, according to Rodrigues, who said Tuesday that future “measures could include necessary adverse employment actions and suspensions for school officials.”
Fine cheered the move to deactivate SJP chapters yet also bashed DeSantis for not acting sooner on the issue. Earlier in the day, the outspoken Republican lawmaker dropped his endorsement of DeSantis for president and endorsed Donald Trump after claiming the Republican governor has not done enough to counter antisemitism in Florida.
“Why did it take me endorsing [Trump] to get you to take action?” Fine posted on social media Tuesday. “I gave you all of this on October 9th. I have the texts. All I got back was a bunch of handwringing.”
The SJP chapters that are disbanded will be allowed to form new student groups outside of the national organization’s purview, Rodrigues said in his memo. The chancellor asked universities to grant waivers for groups that seek to reapply as new organizations.