University of Florida Pro-Palestine Group Sues DeSantis Over Deactivation

"This attack on free speech is dangerous," said the head of Florida's ACLU. "Today it is pro-Palestinian students, tomorrow it could be any other group the governor dislikes."

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The University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on Thursday sued state education officials and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over their move to deactivate the group for its support of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, apartheid, and other crimes.

The lawsuit – which was filed by the ACLU of Florida and Palestine Legal – seeks a preliminary injunction to block State University of Florida System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues’ deactivation order, issued last month after Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) national body declared support for Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s war on Gaza.

SJP also asserted that the Hamas-led attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers was “not unprovoked” and said that Israel’s “apartheid, ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate bombing, arbitrary detention, destruction of infrastructure, [and] 75 years of settler-colonialism are provocations.”

“Florida’s deactivation order against a Palestinian rights student group for exercising its free speech and association rights is a clear First Amendment violation,” Hina Shamsi, director of ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

“We hope our client’s brave decision to challenge state officials’ attempt to restrict student speech sends the strong message that censorship in our schools is unconstitutional,” Shamsi added. “There should be no question that independent political advocacy – no matter its viewpoint – is fully constitutionally protected.”

Howard Simon, interim executive director at the ACLU of Florida, said:

If Florida officials think silencing pro-Palestinian students protects the Jewish community – or anyone – they’re wrong. This attack on free speech is dangerous. Today it is pro-Palestinian students, tomorrow it could be any other group the governor dislikes.

We recognize colleges are contending with how to manage increased threats and rising tensions on their campuses while keeping students safe – and we take the weight and complexity of these challenges seriously. But it is precisely in times of heightened crisis and fear that government officials, including Gov. DeSantis and Chancellor Rodrigues, must remain steadfast in their obligations to respect free speech, open debate, and peaceful dissent on campus.

The U.F. SJP chapter asserted that “as students on a public college campus, we have every right to engage in human rights advocacy and promote public awareness and activism for a just and reasonable solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.”

“We know we have First Amendment rights in school and we’re bringing this lawsuit to make sure the government doesn’t silence us or others like us,” the group added.

DeSantis – a longshot 2024 GOP presidential contender – stridently touts Florida as “the freest state in these United States” and a place “where woke goes to die.”

The new lawsuit comes amid a nationwide campus crackdown on students and groups advocating for Palestinian rights and protesting what many experts call a genocidal Israeli war that has left more than 40,000 Palestinians dead, wounded, or missing.

Officials have attempted to justify targeting pro-Palestine groups by pointing to the dramatic rise in reported antisemitic activity on campuses. However, Jewish-led groups including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow have been among the most targeted organizations.

At Columbia University in New York, both SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace were suspended, prompting hundreds of students and faculty to protest both in the streets and in open letters condemning the move.

“Throughout history, students have been central actors in ending segregation, war, and apartheid – and Students for Justice in Palestine sits squarely in that tradition,” Palestine Legal founder and director Dima Khalidi said in a statement. “It is precisely because these principled students pose a challenge to the status quo that they are being targeted with McCarthyist censorship, but the First Amendment simply does not allow for it.”

“As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza unfolds, we can’t let elected officials and university leaders stigmatize groups speaking out for Palestinian human rights,” Khalidi added. “The voices of SJP chapters are more important than ever.”

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

7 thoughts on “University of Florida Pro-Palestine Group Sues DeSantis Over Deactivation”

  1. There you have it folks. Each and every presidential candidate (and former candidate) openly cheers the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories, so petrified of AIPAC . Reverend Jerimiah Wright was correct when he said, “G-d D*mn America”. We have been indoctrinated to a lie from the moment we began our formal education. I have never been so despondent as I am now. Even Bernie Sanders waffled on the massacre. Author and activist Norman Finkelstein called him on it. I hate to say it but what this country needs is a good old fashioned bombing of every major city in the U.S., just like we did during WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries in between and after.

    1. There’s an element of tremendous guilty pleasure in reading your post, until I remember my children and grandchildren. You’re on to something. But it’s more likely those would be nuclear bombs, which give us no chance to learn anything. Even if we decided it was about time to learn from our mistakes after not learning from any of our mistakes FOREVER, this time we wouldn’t be given the chance! It would just be KARMA schooling us our final lesson.

  2. The issue for me now, is who do I vote for in 2024? Can NOT vote for the Republicans or the Democrats, since they have proven to no longer work for Americans, work for our Republic. I am hoping Independents who will stand up for Peace, stand up for Human Rights, will run for office in every open position. I was a Trump Supporter, but no longer, he is a Zionist, a Hypocrite, like the majority in both Parties.

    1. Voting won’t change anything. The only people who should be in office are those who don’t want to be; the rest are out for themselves (ego, money, etc.). Furthermore, the U.S. is not a democracy for multiple reasons (see the 2014 Princeton study), and the whole system is rigged and corrupted.

      What’s needed is for people to get into the streets and stay there until we get the major changes needed. But Americans still support Israel, just by a smaller margin than before this latest war started. So we’re not getting a revolution based on this issue.

  3. With Assange constantly on my mind, ACLU membership dues left unpaid have been finding their way to my garbage faster than I can glance at them. But maybe I would slow down my urge if they stand up to DeSantis. I am confident, even full fledged Zionists think he’s a bit extreme in his support for Zionism. Time will tell.

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