Ron DeSantis (because of course, Ron DeSantis) called upon Florida Universities to shutter the student organization Students for Justice in Palestine. The group, which has existed for years, has seized upon the moment to flex its muscles by extolling the virtue of Gazan liberation, and by extension, Hamas. In light of the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, DeSantis pulled the plug.
State University System of Florida Chancellor Raymon Rodrigues announced the order on Tuesday, citing the on-campus activism of National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group that is active at both the University of Florida and the University of Southern Florida.
“Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” wrote Rodrigues. “These two student chapters may form another organization that complies with Florida state statutes and university policies.”
So free speech? Freedom of association? Freedom of religion? Academic freedom? Yet again, DeSantis’ decree violated the full panoply of First Amendment rights in his state schools. But then, what about that “toolkit”?
The chancellor did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In his written order, he explains that National SJP circulated a “toolkit” that expresses solidarity with Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, another name for the series of brutal terrorist attacks committed by Hamas against Israeli citizens on October 7. In the state’s view, this is ample evidence that the students are “knowingly providing material support” to Hamas.
And, indeed, the toolkit was designed to instigate action.
We as Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity
with this movement.
◆ This is a moment of mobilization for all Palestinians. We must act as part of this
movement. All of our efforts continue the work and resistance of Palestinians
on the ground.
Is this a call for students to engage in the same conduct as Hamas? Did this go beyond praising Hamas for raping, kidnapping and murdering Israeli civilians? Well, according to the toolkit, the raped, kidnapped and murdered weren’t civilians, but “military assets.”
Settlers are not “civilians” in the sense of international law, because they are military assets used to ensure continued control over stolen Palestinian land
This, of course, isn’t accurate, but free speech doesn’t require accuracy. Claiming civilians are military to justify their rape, kidnapping and murder might be wrong and reprehensible, but isn’t that exactly what the First Amendment exists to protect, reprehensible speech?
The toolkit is indeed vile; its authors celebrate the slaughter of innocent Israeli civilians as “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance.” Anyone who disagrees with the activists is free to criticize them, organize protests against them, and form student groups that seek to counter their aims. No one has the right to shut them down, however.
National SJP’s views on the conflict in Gaza are clearly protected speech rather than “material support” for terrorism. Unfortunately for would-be censors in Florida, the First Amendment takes precedent, explains the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
“This directive is a dangerous—and unconstitutional—threat to free speech,” wrote FIRE in a statement. “If it goes unchallenged, no one’s political beliefs will be safe from government suppression.”
If comparison helps, consider the vile views reflected by the pseudo-Nazis marching in Skokie in 1977, when the right to free speech prevailed over their disgusting views. But what if Florida State University had a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan? Would there be condemnation beyond the handful of free speech activists who reject hypocrisy, or is that “different” because an organization that extols racism and the subjugation of black people would make students feel “unsafe”?
Even assuming the FSU Klan chapter only held ice cream parties, would their attending in white hoods and burning a cross atop their sundaes go beyond the pale? Is a group applauding, if not urging, the rape, kidnapping and murder of Jews, or if one wants to pretend it’s not about Jews but only Zionists, really all that different from a group seeking to re-enslave black people?
Conservatives who claim to oppose censorship on college campuses—and call it out whenever right-leaning students and faculty are the victims and leftwing activists are the aggressors—are engaged in obvious hypocrisy if they do not criticize DeSantis for this. The answer to bad speech is more speech; it is not state action.
The problem with condemning hypocrisy, and Robby Soave is right that any failure to condemn DeSantis’ action is hypocrisy, is the facility with which so many people can rationalize why “this time is different.” Is the KKK, or the Nazis, any different from SJP calling for the death of Jews and the destruction of Israel? By their belief system, it is very different, as the Palestinians are the oppressed and anything they do to resist (read destroy) their oppressors is justified. It’s wrong to harm black people. It’s right to harm Jews. Voila!
The toolkit does not advocate for students in the United States to physically harm anyone, even though it extols the virtues of terrorism because, from their point of view, it isn’t terrorism but resistance. Regardless of how twisted their rationalization may be, they are allowed their view and they are entitled to express it as long as it does not lapse into engaging in conduct that is destructive or harmful. And Jewish students on campus are rightfully in fear of their lives, as the spillover from lauding rape, kidnapping and murder in Israel to the same here is a hair’s breadth away.
But still it’s free speech. For now.