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Florida Ordered Students For Justice In Palestine Groups To Disband

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U.S. university campuses are broiling with debates over the continuous attacks between Israel and Hamas, a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Israel declared war in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack. Some students and faculty in the U.S. have claimed universities are not condemning Israel’s violence against the people of Palestine as strongly as Hamas’ violence against the people of Israel, and have expressed support for Palestinian students. 

In Florida, some state and university officials have made statements supporting Israel. And as of Oct. 24, leaders of the Florida state university system are disbanding student chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. 

Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., killed around 1,400 civilians and took over 200 hostages in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Israel responded with an attack on the Gaza Strip, cutting off water, food, and fuel supplies to approximately 2 million Gazan residents. Hospitals in Gaza now say they might need to close due to lack of supplies. Humanitarian organizations, like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), say they cannot operate without fuel or water.

Student protests have occurred across the U.S., as tensions escalate between students and university staff expressing opinions on both sides of the issue. According to Teen Vogue, students at over 100 U.S. college campuses walked out to demand a ceasefire in Gaza on Oct. 25. The students also protested any university links to companies that provide weapons to Israel. National Students for Justice Palestine was one of the organizers of the walkout. Teen Vogue reported the walkout is an example of a broader anti-war movement among young people, and that high school students also participated in walkouts the previous week.

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Florida chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine were ordered to disband. 

Florida’s state university system chancellor Ray Rodrigues issued a memorandum to Florida’s state colleges announcing the disbandment of two Florida university chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine on Oct. 24. Rodrigues said National Students for Justice Palestine (NSJP) expressed support for a terrorist organization and the Oct. 7 attack, which Hamas calls “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.” 

Rodrigues referred to a “toolkit” for college campuses released by NSJP, which stated that Operation Al-Aqsa Flood is “the resistance” and that “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with the movement.”

When Her Campus reached out to NSJP for comment on the disbandment, NSJP directed us to Palestine Legal’s statement, which says in part, “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).” The statement also affirms that the disbandment will be challenged in court.

According to the memo, giving material support to a foreign terrorist group is a felony under Florida law. The memo says student chapters are not banned from forming a new group unaffiliated with NSJP and exercising their right to free speech. 

Rodrigues’ statement was released in consultation with Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis, who voiced support for Israel on his campaign trail. Randy Fine, a Jewish Republican lawmaker in Florida, is also a prominent figure asking university officials to quell anti-Israel students and staff. He criticized DeSantis for not taking action against pro-Palestinian student groups earlier in an Oct. 24 statement on X. 

Where do the Florida chapters of Students for Justice Palestine stand? 

Recently-active organizations of Students for Justice in Palestine in Florida include chapters at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, both of which now face cancellation in light of the memo. 

Students at University of Florida Students for Justice Palestine (UFSJP) said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, “Governor DeSantis continues to disrespect American values such as freedom of speech to extend his political power.” UFSJP claims that disbanding student groups is disrespectful to all pro-Palestinian groups. 

In an open letter, UFSJP also recently criticized University of Florida president Ben Sasse’s email addressed to “Jewish Gator Alums” on Oct. 10. In the statement, Sasse claimed that people who try to provide context around the Israel-Hamas issue are “weakened by their moral confusion.” He also stated, “What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism.” The email was sent following a University of Florida pro-Israel vigil that day. 

In their open letter, UFSJP responded, “There is no moral confusion in pointing out that Gaza, with a population of over 2 million people, has been treated as an open-air prison under the Israeli blockade. There is no moral confusion in acknowledging that Palestinians have faced displacement and death at the hands of the Israeli government.” The Gaza Health Ministry says over 6,500 Gazans have been killed since Oct. 7, which international institutions like the UN cannot confirm. The UN says that about 1.4 million Gazans are displaced.  

UFSJP continues their open letter by saying Sasse has not acknowledged Palestinian humanity like he did with Israeli victims. Her Campus reached out to UFSJP and Sasse for comment, but did not hear back before the time of publication.

University of South Florida Students for Justice Palestine is also disbanded following the memorandum. On Oct. 19, they posted an official statement to their Instagram saying, “We stand in full solidarity with the Palestinian resistance against more than 75 years of apartheid.” Students for Justice Palestine at the University of South Florida also did not respond to Her Campus’ request for comment.

Lia Freeman is a Her Campus National Writer for the Career and Life sections. She writes weekly articles along with covering more timely content. She recently graduated from the University of Sheffield in England, where she majored in philosophy, religious studies and ethics. Lia was the opinion editor for her university newspaper and the Deputy Head of News at her university's radio station. She also interned with a humanitarian journalist team called The India Story Agency, where she did social media, background research, and writing for work appearing in the British Medical Journal. Lia has freelanced in news and lifestyle for The Tab, Empoword Journalism, and Liberty Belle Magazine. She also occasionally publishes her own stories on Medium! Lia loves road-tripping and camping with her friends, and pretending she could be a Wimbledon star on the tennis court. Oftentimes you'll find her lost in a book or lost online. She is passionate about covering social issues and education, and hearing women's voices in the media.