Florida is cracking down on the National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) – which includes USF’s own chapter – after the organization made statements that were classified as “a harmful support for terrorist groups.”
University leaders were directed to terminate the pro-Palestinian student groups in a letter sent to SUS presidents on Wednesday from Ray Rodrigues, State University System (SUS) Chancellor. The decision was coordinated with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration.
Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7. The attack prompted the Israeli cabinet to declare war against Hamas, according to the Council of Foreign Relations.
Rodrigues said Hamas called their attacks on Israel “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.” He said NSJP released a “toolkit,” which referred to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood as the resistance.
It stated that “Palestinian students in exile are part of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.” Rodrigues said NSJP’s actions of identifying with Operation Al-Aqsa Flood is a felony under Fla. Stat. 775.33 (3).
The statute states that “a person who knowingly provides material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, commits a felony of the first degree.”
School administrators who support the student groups could face suspension, according to the letter.
An Emergency Rally for Gaza was held by the Resistance of Tampa Bay shortly after Wednesday’s announcement.
What began as a crowd of 20 people chanting and holding signs evolved into an over 100-person march that stopped traffic. The march ended where the rally started at Fowler and 56th St., as protesters continued to chant and wave Palestinian flags.
Tiffany Mclane, who attended the protest with her 10-year-old daughter, said USF’s chapter of NSJP, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), holds a special place in her heart. Mclane and her sister, a USF alum, were both part of the organization and have been protesting for Palestinian support since hearing about the conflict in 2010.
She said DeSantis’ move to disband pro-Palestinian student groups in Florida is disheartening.
“The fact that DeSantis is trying to shut us down, stop our protesting and just try to silence our voices is not going to happen,” Mclane said.
Mclane said she visited Palestine in 2011 and witnessed the “torment” Israel was causing. After hearing stories of her mom’s experiences, Isabella Mukherjee said she wanted to stand alongside her at Wednesday’s rally.
“I want to be here with this journey so that I can be with her and be part of history,” Mukherjee said.
Also in attendance with her child was 31-year-old Rayza Sanchez. She said being at the rally with her son, Zahir Mejia-Sanchez, meant everything to her.
“It means I’m planting the seed of love. I always tell him to stand up for what’s right. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is quiet,” she said.
Tensions were high as some drove by and honked in support, while others rolled their windows down to argue with protesters. Sanchez said there needs to be more unity so real change can happen.
“We need unity. And you don’t need to be from the same religion, you just need to be a human,” Sanchez said. “I’m Mexican. I’m a Christian. But right now, I’m here with them.”
Another protester, 27-year-old Jessica Awwad, said DeSantis’ decision was “disgusting” and “ridiculous.”
“There should be pro-Palestinian Americans standing up,” Awwad said. “Innocent people are being scrutinized for just simply existing.”
USF and SJP did not respond to The Oracle’s request for comment at the time of publication.
SJP along with Muslim Student Association, Sisters United Muslim Association, Students for Socialism, and Students Organize for Syria, is holding a march on Thursday at 2 p.m. “for the children of Gaza.”
This march comes shortly after an Oct. 12 rally held by SJP saw around 50 students attend to express their solidarity with Palestine.
The University of Florida is the only other public universities in the state to have an NSJP chapter.
This story has been updated.