Florida’s DeSantis bans pro-Palestinian student group

(This Oct. 24 story has been refiled to correct the name to the ‘University of South Florida’, from ‘Florida State University’, in paragraph 5)

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Florida’s university system, working with Governor Ron DeSantis, ordered colleges on Tuesday to shut down a pro-Palestinian student organization, marking the first U.S. state to outlaw 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 a “crack down” 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.

SJP is active in at least two Florida universities, Rodrigues said.

The University of Florida and University of South Florida have SJP chapters, based on Instagram sites. The National SJP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students have led to harassment and assaults at U.S. universities since Hamas’ Oct.7 attack and Israel’s siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Administrators at some U.S. universities criticized the National SJP after it called 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.

DeSantis, a White House candidate, has taken a hard line against Palestinians, suggesting Gazan civilians be denied water and utilities until Hamas releases hostages it took during its attack.

Florida’s university system said it based its SJP ban on a “toolkit” issued by the national organization to chapters that referred to Hamas’ attack as “the resistance” and stated “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement.”

In his memo, Rodrigues said National SJP identified itself as part of Hamas’ attack and it was a felony under Florida law “to provide material support… to a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

(Reporting By Andrew Hay)