“As students on a public university campus, we have every right to engage in human rights advocacy and to promote public awareness and activism for a just and reasonable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” UF Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement. “We know we have First Amendment rights at school and we are filing this lawsuit to ensure the government does not silence us or others like us.”
The UF SJP chapter also claims to be “entirely autonomous” and to have “no financial relationship” with the national organization as it attempts to operate as a “human rights organization” seeking ” a just and reasonable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
The war between Israel and Hamas is a hot topic at American universities, with students and professors accusing their schools of not doing enough to denounce anti-Semitism, while others want campuses to pay more attention to struggles of trapped Gazans. Schools in other states, such as Brandeis University, Columbia University and George Washington University, have taken action against SJP groups, banning or suspending them.
Presented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit Palestine Legal on behalf of students, the trial targets a memo from the state university system ordering a “crackdown” on campus events led by an organization that the DeSantis administration says amounts to “harmful support for terrorist groups” like Hamas, which has attacked Israel beginning of October.
Florida is targeting these groups because of a “toolkit” released by the national organization that has faced scrutiny in Florida and other states for characterizing the attack, now known as the name “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”, “resistance” while asserting that “Palestinian students and exiles are PART of this movement, and not in solidarity with this movement.
Linking this document to SJP branches in Florida, the state claims the student groups are violating a state law that makes it a crime to “knowingly provide material support…to a designated foreign terrorist organization.”
The group, however, pushed back against the state’s claims that the students were associated with terrorism in the lawsuit naming as defendants DeSantis, university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, the Board of State University Governors, the president of the UF Ben Sasse and UF administrators.
The DeSantis administration and the Board of Governors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Instead, they bring up events they have held in the past, such as vigils for Palestinians killed by the Israeli army, social events highlighting Palestinian culture and food, and even a course in Palestinian embroidery. Shortly after the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the UF SJP organized a “teach-in” to illustrate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and demonstrate support for Palestinian human rights, an event attended by more than 200 students.
Events like these, however, could be at risk if the state deactivates the group, according to the lawsuit, which claims the move would “significantly undermine UF SJP’s activism.”
“Instead of advancing its mission to defend Palestinian rights, the UF SJP now finds its very existence in danger,” the group claims in the lawsuit.
The organization contends that the state’s deactivation order unconstitutionally censors and penalizes the UF SJP in violation of free speech and viewpoint discrimination laws. In turn, they are asking a federal judge to overturn the order and stop the DeSantis administration from dismantling the SJP groups.
Florida officials have so far been unable to officially dismantle the UF SJP or any other branch of the University of South Florida and are now asking them to commit to “rejecting violence,” to “reject that they are part of the Hamas movement” and to “reject violence”. “will follow the law. »
The lawsuit also takes aim at this attempt at state control, claiming the “ultimatums” put UF’s SJP in an “untenable position.”
“Even if the UF SJP were to comply with these demands, it would only open the door to further ultimatums restricting its constitutionally protected expression and association,” the students’ attorneys wrote.
In another measure aimed at punishing students in Florida, anyone who “promotes” Hamas and other designated terrorist organizations could have their scholarships, grants and other benefits taken away under a new bill proposed Wednesday by lawmakers Republicans.