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DeSantis orders universities to shut down pro-Palestinian student clubs

Palestinian supporters gathered on the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street on the University of Florida campus Monday evening, Oct. 23, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)
Palestinian supporters gathered on the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street on the University of Florida campus Monday evening, Oct. 23, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

Ahead of a walkout protest planned Wednesday by some students at the University of Florida in support of victims of violence in Gaza after the attacks by Hamas, the DeSantis administration ordered universities here to dismantle chapters of a pro-Palestinian student organization.

Acting at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made unrestrained support for Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks part of his campaign platform for the Republican presidential nomination, Florida issued the orders through the State University System, which oversees all public universities in the state.

The memo from DeSantis and the chancellor of the State University System, Ray Rodrigues, said the national organization of Students for Justice in Palestine described the Hamas attacks as “a surprise operation against the Zionist enemy” and said its members were “PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”

The highly unusual move – all but certain to be challenged in court – pits a law intended to prevent support for terrorists against First Amendment-protected activities in support of Palestinians injured or killed during Israel’s response to the Hamas attack and generations of suffering by Palestinians across the region.

The action was especially significant because the University of Florida has more Jewish students than any other university in America.

The faculty adviser of the group at UF, English professor Malini Johar Schueller, said Wednesday she has received no guidance from the university about the chapter’s future. A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to phone calls and texts.

In response to a reporter's inquiry to student president of the UF chapter, Jude Zurub of Gainesville, a psychology major, the group issued a statement that said the government’s decision was disgraceful and represented “not just a setback for those who oppose apartheid, settler-colonialism and genocide, but for any who challenge the status quo.”

Hamas, the militant group that launched the attacks that killed an estimated 1,400 Israelis, has long been designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization. The DeSantis memo said the Florida chapters were violating a state law against knowingly providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The memo from the chancellor also said authorities will be patrolling any campus protests that “delve beyond protected First Amendment speech into harmful support for terrorist groups” and that students could be suspended or professors could be fired. 

Earlier this month, an influential state lawmaker, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said any Florida college or university student organization that has attempted to “justify the killing of Jews” must be expelled immediately, and should lose their funding. Fine, who is Jewish, also called for students participating in rallies expressing such beliefs to be expelled, and any faculty member who has "propagated, excused, or encouraged this genocide" to be fired.

The state memo also followed a statement earlier this month by the University of Florida’s new president, former Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who said it was “beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans” to offer anything other than unqualified support for Israel. In the same statement, Sasse promised to defend free speech on campus.

“We will protect our students and we will protect speech,” he said. “This is always true: Our Constitution protects the rights of people to make abject idiots of themselves.”

According to the memo, there were two chapters of the organization at Florida universities — however, an Instagram search shows active accounts for the group at the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

UF’s chapter has been active since the attacks in Israel. It hosted a teach-in two weeks ago. Its supporters participated in a public protest on campus earlier this week. 

“I don't think there's any logical basis for it,” said Karina Yanes, 28, a studio arts graduate student who is not a member of the group but attended the protest this week. “All that they do is celebrate certain aspects of Palestinian culture, bring people together and obviously speak out for Palestinian rights.”

Hasan Aldelamy, a 20-year-old chemistry student who also attended the protest, said shutting down the group was unfair. 

“What I want the institution to do would be to engage in dialogue with these people instead of just taking a biased approach,” he said. “It's just funny that an entire student government organization is generalized to a specific ideology that completely goes against what they're advocating for.”


This is a breaking news story. Check back for further developments. Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

Lauren is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing