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In comments about Israel at the third GOP primary debate on Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed he “deactivated” a Palestinian student group at Florida universities.
“We had a group of — Students for Justice of Palestine,” he said, misstating the group’s name. “They said they are common cause with Hamas. They said, ‘We’re not just in solidarity. This is what we are.’ We deactivated them. We’re not gonna use tax dollars to fund jihad.”
Except that’s not actually true. DeSantis did call for the group to be disbanded, but it’s unclear whether the state has the legal authority to do so.
The GOP presidential hopeful, whose campaign is on life support, had pushed for Florida universities to bar Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters in late October. Ray Rodrigues, chancellor of Florida’s state university system and a DeSantis ally, followed up with a memo that ordered the group to be deactivated on campuses.
The memo said that the National SJP organization aligned itself with Hamas, and it cited a Florida law that bans anyone from knowingly providing “material support” to a “designated foreign terrorist organization.”
However, Rodrigues said Thursday at a Florida Board of Governors meeting that the two local SJP chapters are still active. The student group’s applications make it clear they operate independently from the national group, and Rodrigues said there were “concerns about potential personal liability for university actors who deactivate the student registered organizations,” Politico reported.
The move to ban SJP is one that free-speech advocates and supporters of Palestinian liberation have decried. The memo also doesn’t explain how the Florida SJP chapters are providing “material support” to Hamas, as it claimed. ACLU Florida’s interim director, Howard Simon, told WUSF, an NPR-affiliated station in Tampa Bay:
Political advocacy — which these Palestinian students are engaged in — as raucous as it might be or as offensive as it might be for some people, does not constitute incitement to violence, and does not constitute ‘material support for terrorism.’
Rodrigues said the state is now pressing for the chapters to issue statements “that they reject violence, that they reject that they are part of the Hamas movement, and that they will follow the law.”
DeSantis apparently failed to take into account these pesky details when he boldly claimed the shutdown of the student group was a done deal. He probably should have fact-checked that with his team beforehand.
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