Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has banned a pro-Palestine student group from university campuses in the state as tensions rise in the United States over the Israel-Gaza war.
The State University System of Florida said on Tuesday that it would dismantle chapters of the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) due to the group’s “support for terrorist groups”.
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“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.
The SJP denounced the move and said DeSantis “continues to disrespect American values, such as freedom of speech”.
“To bend the law in this manner shows the utmost disrespect not only to any pro-Palestinian organization but also to anyone who truly cares for political freedom and freedom of speech,” it said.
Tensions have risen on some US university campuses since the Palestinian armed group Hamas’s October 7 attacks in southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
As Israel continues its assault on Gaza, there are growing concerns among Muslim, Arab and Jewish groups in the US that tensions could spill over into their own communities.
Palestinian activists have described an atmosphere of hostility and censorship. Jewish communities across the US have also described an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents since the fighting began.
Florida is the first state in the country to ban the SJP, which the state accused of throwing its support behind Hamas after the October 7 attacks. More than 1,400 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the attacks, according to Israeli officials. More than 6,500 Palestinians, most of the civilians, have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
The National SJP called the Hamas attacks a “historic win for the Palestinian resistance”, drawing criticism and accusations of condoning attacks on civilians.
Based on its social media presence, the SJP appears to have branches at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and Florida State University in Tallahassee.
DeSantis, a candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination who currently trails former President Donald Trump by a wide margin in polls, has previously stated that all Palestinians are anti-Semitic and Palestinian refugees should not be allowed into the United States.
He has also expressed support for Israel’s decision to cut off food, water, electricity and fuel supplies for the more than 2.3 million residents of the besieged Gaza Strip, which Israel has continuously pounded with air strikes since the attacks by Hamas.
The governor has also proposed new legislation in Florida to expand existing prohibitions on conducting business with Iranian companies, “ensuring Florida does not do business with companies aligned with Iran or Hamas”.
Members of the Arab and Muslim community in the US have expressed fear that as fighting in the Middle East dominates the headlines, they could face a greater risk of discrimination and violence.
“Basically, it’s kind of like you have to prove that you’re not a terrorist,” Aya Hijazi, a US social justice activist with Middle Eastern parents, previously told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
This month, a Palestinian American boy named Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed to death and his mother wounded in Illinois. The suspected attacker, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, has been charged with murder and hate crimes.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies