Ron DeSantis defended his call to ban pro-Palestinian groups from Florida state colleges on Sunday, responding to criticism from Vivek Ramaswamy, one of his GOP presidential primary opponents.
“Free speech doesn’t just protect the ideas we love,” Ramaswamy wrote Thursday on X, calling the ban unconstitutional. He added, “It’s utter hypocrisy for someone who railed against left-wing cancel culture.”
The Florida governor stuck to his guns during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“This is not cancel culture,” he said. “This group, they themselves said, in the aftermath of the Hamas attack, that they don’t just stand in solidarity, that they are part of this Hamas movement. You have a right to go out and demonstrate, but you can’t provide material support to terrorism. They’ve linked themselves to Hamas. And so we absolutely decertified them.”
DeSantis said the student group, which has been on American campuses for decades, “should not get one red cent of taxpayer dollars. We also have strong laws in Florida against fundraising for groups like Hamas, and we are enforcing those vigorously. It’s not a First Amendment issue, that’s a material-support-to-terrorism issue.”
Pressed on whether he’d seen actual evidence that the group was providing such support, DeSantis replied, “Their own words are saying they’re part of this organization, that they don’t just stand in solidarity, that they don’t just support what they did, but that this is their movement, too.”
On Friday, Ramaswamy wrote: “Expressing an opinion can’t count as ‘material support’ for a terrorist organization, or else we’re on our way to a totalitarian state that’s no different from those of the enemies we purport to fight. The Pro-Palestinian student group statements are dead wrong & if they violate the law through violence or otherwise, they should be held accountable. But we can’t ban the expression of an opinion, no matter how heinous it is.”
On Tuesday, Florida’s university system chancellor, Ray Rodrigues, directed state universities to disband campus groups with ties to National Students for Justice in Palestine. In a memo (pdf), he wrote that the group released a “toolkit” that referred to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood—the series of attacks on Israel conducted by the militant group Hamas earlier this month—as “the resistance” and states: “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”
The memo added, “It is a felony under Florida law to ‘knowingly provide material support . . . to a designated foreign terrorist organization.’” In 1997, the U.S. State Department designated Hamas a terrorist group, which is similar to designations by the EU and other Western countries. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.
Palestine Legal, which gives pro-Palestinian groups legal support, wrote in a statement on Wednesday:
“Florida, particularly under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, has been actively undermining education, freedom of speech and social justice movements, including by banning anti-racist courses and trying to criminalize protests. It is not surprising that this egregious move to silence the student movement for Palestinian rights is being pursued under DeSantis.”
DeSantis said on Sunday, “We believe we’re totally justified within the law.”