Ron DeSantis recently ordered Floridian public universities to ban chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine on their campuses, citing a Florida law which prohibits providing material support to terrorist organizations. This is absolutely a violation of first amendment rights, and it presents a clear danger coming directly from a state governor and presidential candidate. As a disclaimer, nothing I am about to say will be regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict directly, but specifically about first amendment rights here in America and why they are in danger. Now, with that being said, this situation is both extremely in character and extremely hypocritical coming from DeSantis. He leads the charge in the culture war against the “cancel culture” (which he loves to hate), yet at the same, this is just another example of him participating in it.
Students for Justice in Palestine is a national organization with 200 loosely connected chapters around the country that advocate for the liberation of Palestine. They operate specifically in North America and advocate for boycotts, divestment and sanctions on Israel from governments and universities. In terms of their methods, they hope for chapters to wield their political power through sit-ins, teach-ins and signing various statements of support. Although the language may be somewhat inflammatory or emotional, at the end of the day all they’re doing is simple political protest. In terms of the law which DeSantis is using, there is nothing that the National SJP or the local Florida chapter does which could be considered “material support for a terrorist organization”. The one sentence from the toolkit specifically cited by DeSantis in his order was “We as Palestinians in exile are PART of this movement.” The toolkit does not mention Hamas specifically at all, but more so in this sentence it only refers to the vague “movement” of liberation which does not at all necessitate any connection to the organization. The evidence is clear that there is no substantive basis for DeSantis to use this law to disband these chapters, and as such this is an unabashed and clear violation of these students’ right to free speech. This issue cannot be ignored.
So now this raises the question of why DeSantis is trying to do this now, and the answer is clearly put by one of the most unlikely of allies in this case. Vivek Ramaswamy recently said in a tweet, “It’s a shameful political ploy… It’s unconstitutional. It’s utter hypocrisy.” First off, this shows that this is not a partisan issue, nor is it an issue of those for or against Israel. Ramaswamy is one of the strongest pro-Israel candidates in the Republican Party, and even he is on the side of defending these student groups he disagrees with. The second thing this quote alludes to is the underlying cause of this action by DeSantis: political gain. Throughout his career, he has been no stranger to making bold moves simply for political attention, but this is one of his more unashamed moves. It is obvious that he is currently running for president, and being the man with the strongest actions in support of Israel would definitely help him make up ground in the primaries against Donald Trump. Yet, there lies an even more specific answer to this question, and his name is Randy Fine. A Jewish representative in the Florida state legislature had formerly endorsed DeSantis, but recently wrote a harsh op-ed in the Washington Times switching his support to Trump and claiming that DeSantis never backed up the Jewish community with anything but words. Although the DeSantis team denies it, the context and incredible timing doesn’t do them any favors.
A threat to constitutional rights anywhere is a threat to them everywhere, especially when the one suppressing free speech is one of the frontrunners for president of the United States. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is on any matter of foreign policy, because this issue is entirely domestic. Students have a right to free speech, they have a right to protest for what they believe in, and conflating that to material support of terrorism is an extremely dangerous precedent to set. Do not let political attention grabs be the cause of genuine suppression. Do not let DeSantis win here and let this injustice stand. Our rights are worth more than that.